Jack is back! In 2000, Mo Hayder literally swept onto the crime fiction scene, introducing detective Jack Caffery in the compelling and controversial novel Birdman. He returned in 2001 in The Treatment. However, since then, Hayder’s fiction oeuvre has developed with the critically acclaimed Tokyo in 2004, (a.k.a. The Devil of Nanking), and Pig Island in 2006. The power of her writing and her ability to shock would have retained her readership as she left Caffery behind and enticed others; but I’ve no doubt that many will be pleased to see Jack Caffery’s return in Ritual.
In a nutshell: DI Jack Caffery has left London behind and is seconded to the Major Crime Investigation Unit in Bristol. He has not left his troubled past behind him though; the disappearance of his brother continues to haunt him as does his most recent failed relationship. April sees police diver Flea Marley recover a human hand from the waters of Bristol’s floating harbour. No body is found and within a day the matching hand is discovered. Caffery and Marley then learn that the victim was still alive when the hands were removed and establish that the hands belong to a young man, a drug addict, who has recently disappeared…
Caffery is not the only one with personal problems here. Flea too, is dealing with issues. Her parents died in an accident and she has become the surrogate parent to her younger brother who blanks out the incident and the loss. As the novel progresses and we learn of the lengths that both Caffery and Flea will pursue to find some form of comfort or resolution, there is a tense feeling of imminent meltdown for both these characters. Both are on the edge, but do they trip over the line?
The plot of the novel considers the lives of displaced Africans living in the UK, Bristol in particular, here. Dedicated to ‘Adam’, the young boy whose torso was found in the Thames in 2001, the novel explores Muti and casts a swathe through previous inadequately researched media reporting in the UK. Hayder has clearly done her research and sympathetically draws the lines between culture, belief, religion, witchcraft and simple bloody torture and murder within the fiction format. Where the media went quickly to copy, Hayder has had the time to dissect the facts. None of this research reads as “Hey, look what I know”; it explains the various aspects of the plot she has created in Ritual and is an education in tandem.
Hayder is renowned for exploring the darker recesses of the mind with her novels and Ritual adds to that list with aplomb. Here, we are also invited to learn and understand more about the pressures of the underworld and the lives of drug addicts in hard, gritty reality. The picture on the cover is a true fit for this novel representing the darker recesses of the life of a drug addict. It’s a very bleak landscape.
This is a harrowing page-turner of a novel with the metaphor that life on the surface may appear to be fine, but lurking just a few feet under the surface we may also find hell on earth. You’ll need to find your mettle to read this, but you’ll find a good, well-executed story told and an education in Muti to set aside any prejudices you may have had due to previous mis-reporting.
As an example of crime fiction as social commentary for its times, Ritual hits the nail on the head. Everyone in this novel is troubled by something and all concerns are real and contemporary, well-explored.Hayder fans will be pleased to note that this is the start of the Walking Man series, promising more Caffery perhaps. The Walking Man is someone Caffery seeks out when he relocates to the West Country. Who is he? Why does Caffery want to engage with him? Well, you’d have to read Ritual to get the first inkling. I am not about to give away anything here. But, it does not make for a pretty picture, I warn you, and provides another reflection on life that bites at your conscience.
Ritual: a novel that cuts to the chase of our modern western world, involving the sad lives of those who are addicted to drugs and the other risks they might encounter, due to their vulnerability. In a millennium of increased immigration, how can this western world reconcile itself, if at all possible, to the cultures that accompany our new citizens?
But above all in this fictional plot, do Caffery and Flea find justice for the victim of the stolen hands? Do read on …
Ritual is a thought-provoking and compelling read. This novel is not to be ignored or overlooked by any avid reader of the crime genre as well as those who like to read fiction and have a sense of justice within the complicated scheme of multi-cultural life. Miss it / ignore it at your own peril. Ritual is both a firm mark on society today and a damn good read.