Oh, Mo Hayder, I should not read your books when I am at home alone with only two cats for protection. But once I picked up Ritual, I could not put it down and if that's not the sign of a great, plot-driven book, I don't know what is.
When a hand washes up unannounced and with no body attached, Sgt. Flea Marley, a member of the police dive unit in Bath, and her CID (I think?) Caffrey unravel a complex and shocking case founded in the immigrant experience in England. Their investigation uncovers an underground market for muti that soon becomes focus of their policework. Muti, African rituals brought from the continent to England that broker in human body parts and fear (among the believers), forms the basis for Hayder to bring race, class and colonialism into her work, and the book is all the better for it.
Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Ms. Hayder for an interview that'll appear on The Savvy Reader later this week. A self-described autodidact, Hayder researches carefully but not without really great instincts, and in Ritual she's written a daring and addictive thriller that has echoes of Henning Mankell. When I walked into the room, I said, "Your book scared the pants off of me!" She laughed and replied, "Good!" And it's true, there's an element of fear that pervades the entire novel: people (even the police) are being watched, stalked even, and no one seems untouched by tragedy. Both main characters are broken in some way from major life events that alter their perspectives; Flea's parents are dead and Caffery lost a brother at a very young age. Yet, as 'outsiders' in a way (they're also lonely and have little true human contact with other people), the tragedies are exactly what make Flea and Caffery good at their jobs.
Subtitled "A Walking Man novel," Ritual introduces a character who will appear in upcoming books. He's a man who lives outside, cooks his own food, follows his own path, and is kind of a sooth-sayer for Caffery. Yet, the Walking Man also has a past. He committed one of the most heinous crimes the district has ever seen and now that he's paid his debt to society, he's determined to stay at its edges. Captivating, creepy, smart and ridiculously readable, I loved Ritual. Although I have to say that the fellow standing next to me on the subway yesterday must have thought I was reading something utterly disturbing. Every time I'd look up from my book he'd give me a sweet little smile trying to make me feel a bit better because I was honestly scared out of my wits and it must have shown on my face.