I will confess up front that I wasn't even a tenth of the way through POPPET and I was terrified. I should have expected it; Mo Hayder has a talent for weaving the macabre through the mysterious in equal parts, resulting in a tapestry that presents a tantalizing and puzzling mystery that mesmerizes even as it shocks. So it is with POPPET, which gives readers an opportunity to warmly welcome the return of Detective Inspector Jack Caffery of the Bristol, U.K., Major Crime Investigation Team (MCIT).
"I will confess up front that I wasn't even a tenth of the way through POPPET and I was terrified.... POPPET is a shocker, though delightfully so."
The book has somewhat of a bizarre beginning, though things get sorted out easily enough, helped along by Hayder’s third-person, present-tense narration. To put it simply, something is not right in the Beechway psychiatric unit. Patients are suddenly engaging in self-harm, from mutilation to suicide, with no prior history of such. It appears that they are being terrorized by something called The Maude, which supposedly is the spirit of an individual associated with the hospital’s dark past. That clearly cannot be, but the obvious may be wrong.
A staff nurse who has a tenuous connection to Caffery calls him in to investigate. There isn’t much to follow, but what there is leads Caffery to believe that there is something more than a mysterious legend doing violence in the place. Most significantly, the suicide victim left behind a drawing that bears a marked resemblance to a patient who was recently released, one with a violent and frightening history who probably should never have been let go at all and who has now disappeared.
In addition to the Beechway case, Caffery has business left over from GONE, the previous volume in the series. He has been quietly concealing his knowledge concerning the disappearance of a young lady, of which someone on the force --- a woman for whom he has strong feelings --- has some complicity. There is pressure on him to press toward a resolution. Specifically, the missing victim’s mother wants either her daughter or her body back, while Caffery’s MCIT superior prefers to assign the case elsewhere so that Caffery can devote his unique talents to other matters. Caffery is concerned that if the case leaves his desk, the truth regarding the missing woman’s disappearance ultimately will come to light. He has a solution, but the officer he is protecting stubbornly will have nothing of it. Meanwhile, the problems at Beechway get worse, and the staff --- particularly one member --- has no idea how dangerous things will truly become.
Be warned: POPPET is a shocker, though delightfully so. There was a quick minute or so near the beginning of the book when I wasn't even sure that I wanted to keep reading. I did, of course, and loved every word. But just about the time I settled down, Hayder scared the dinner out of me again about three-quarters of the way through. I yelled something like "fiddlesticks" (only much shorter). That, of course, hardly ever occurs. This book isn’t about shock value, though. Hayder twists and turns the primary plot into 90- and 180-degree angles yet never lets the reader get lost, confused, or misdirected. And while you might guess some of what will happen, there is almost no way that you will figure out all of it before its time, particularly the subtle little anti-climax you will never see coming yet makes perfect sense.
POPPET will have you placing Mo Hayder on your must-read list, if she wasn’t there already.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 24, 2013