Poppet by Mo Hayder

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Poppet by Mo Hayder

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: The mentally ill patients at Beechway are terrified... but then so are the staff...and people are dying. Meanwhile, DI Jack Caffrey has a cold case that he desperately wants to shut down. Policing at its darkest and least procedural...
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 501 Date: February 2014
Publisher: Bantam
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780857500762

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DI Jack Caffrey has been around for a while now, I just haven't previously stumbled into his deep dark world. This is the sixth in the series of books featuring the plain clothed Detective Inspector of Bristol's Major Crime Investigation Team, but you don't need to have read any of the others to enjoy - if enjoy is the right word - this (not quite the) latest offering.

Caffrey is not a local, but he's been in Bristol for three years. He's spent that time not only doing his job, but learning the criminal history of the place, getting a feel for what has gone before. In the nasty world of Major Crime, that is often a clue to what is happening now, and what might be yet to come.

Beechway High Secure Unit, is what once might have been called an asylum, before the word took on harsher connotations. It is now part refuge, part prison. AJ Le Grande is the senior nursing co-ordinator, a role that is part administrative but still involves a lot of direct patient contact. AJ comes across as being much better at the latter than the former.

AJ. Everyone calls him that. Not his given initials. It stems from a bullying slight very early in his career. Average Joe. AJ. It kind of stuck, and he adopted it happily enough. Now everyone calls him AJ, the patients, his friends, even his Aunt Patience who shared his upbringing with his mother and still lives with him in the rambling warren of knocked-together cottages they've had for years.

Something isn't right at Beechway. The patients are agitated. More so than usual, and usual is worrying enough for most people. Self-harming incidents are on the up, some of them way beyond cutting and scarring. It's worse than that. It's not just the patients. If this is some kind of transmitted nervous hysteria it's affecting the staff as well. There's something eerie about the place all of a sudden, as if a Victorian mental hospital-cum-workhouse isn't going to be eerie enough just in the very fabric of the building. Something is going on. Staff are avoiding the night shift. Sickness rates are high. No-shows are risking losing their jobs. But no-one wants to be on the wards after dark.

Monster Mother – a patient with enough problems of her own – is regressing. She is shedding her skin and hiding her skeleton in the dark corners where no-one can see her. She trusts AJ, though. To him she can explain that The Maude is back.

The Maude isn't Jack's problem. Not yet. For now he has to deal with Jacqui Kitson. Angry and drunk and throwing wine over him is just Jacqui's way of letting him know she's back in town. She's back in town to stir up the press again. Jacqui's daughter walked out of Beechway a few years ago and was never seen again. Jacqui wants answers and believes its Jack Caffrey's job to give them to her.

What she might not know is that Jack still has Misty's life-size photograph on his office wall, still has the map that marks the dead-ends of the investigation into her disappearance. What she doesn't know is that he also still needs it to be sorted , for her to have a body to bury.

What Jack does know, is far more than he's able to tell anyone. It's very clear, very quickly, that at the very least, he knows what did NOT happen to Misty. He knows where she isn't.

…And so Hayder sews her seeds of sickness and lays the trail of rotting breadcrumbs in a gripping tale of evil, but also of sadness and despair.

Fear is at the heart of the tale. Fear real and unreal and fear realised into unspeakable, unthinkable cruelty.

I'd hesitate to say I enjoyed Poppet, because I cringed my way through a fair chunk of it. Not because Hayder has a particular way with the description of nastiness ~ actually she does, but her way is Hitchock's way, suggest rather than depict ~ more because of what the imagination fills in, and because of her insight into what can make people what they are, and how often we're unable to see past what they present to traces of goodness lurking beneath.

Through her twisting tale of seeking the truth behind a number of explained deaths that might not be what they seem, and following the cold trail of long-missing Misty, Hayder deftly weaves the humanity of people under pressure: police being forced to abandon cases they know are not closed and need to be, nurses and administrators trying to hold down jobs they've fought hard for, to do what needs to be done for human-kindness sake in the face of financial pressures and the ever-present threat of a loss of resource that will abandon the helpless and hopeless to…what? Individuals trying to live their current lives despite past tragedy, trying, and often failing, to move on.

When both Karin Slaughter and Tess Gerritsen endorse a novel, you can be sure it isn't out of sisterhood solidarity. You can take them at their word… this is worth the read.

Bonus points to the publisher for the suitably spooky Poppet on the cover of the paperback edition.

If you enjoy Mo Hayder, you'll love Tess Gerritsen - try Last to Die as a starter - provided you don't mind starting in the middle.

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Buy Poppet by Mo Hayder at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Poppet by Mo Hayder at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Poppet by Mo Hayder at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Poppet by Mo Hayder at Amazon.com.


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