Reading Mo Hayder is a singularly visceral experience. I can only describe it as like the bit on a rollercoaster when you’re inching up the track, knowing that any moment you’ll plunge downwards at terrifying speed, leaving your insides miles behind you – the anticipation is terrifying, and the outcome… well. You can work it out. I read Hanging Hill when it first came out and the ending to that story still makes me go ice cold when I think about it – it was a brilliant piece of thriller writing. And Poppet didn’t disappoint – I was hooked from the first graphically nasty opener to the shock ending.
It starts as a horror story – the residents of the secure psychiatric hospital are being tormented by a small, vicious ghost they call the Maude, which is driving them to self-harm in horrendous ways. But psychiatric nurse AJ LeGrande – Average Joe – isn’t convinced that the cause is supernatural. Could it be one of the patients themselves? Calling on Detective Inspector Jack Caffrey for help, AJ is determined to stop the culprit before anyone else gets hurt. But his mission is complicated by his new romance with the unit’s boss, Melanie, whom he fears may be the next target of the Maude….
Meanwhile Jack Caffrey has his own problems, both with murder and with love. You don’t need to have read the previous books in this series to get a sense of this complicated cop and the moral nightmare in which he’s caught; he’s an intriguing character and his story arc is tense and compulsive.
Hayder does not shirk away from nastiness but her descriptions are just short enough of graphic detail to leave you breathless for more, rather than stomach-churningly off-putting. They are tautly plotted with lots of twists and turns that keep you hooked throughout – there are no lulls, no bits to skip, she keeps you right there in the action all the time. I loved AJ’s character and was vicariously living the story through his eyes all the way. And the ending was brilliant – so right, so satisfying, and yet so sad. I loved this book and it’s creepy cover – and yes, that shiver is still firmly in my spine. Rating: ****
Bantam Books, 2013, ISBN 9780857500762