Mo Hayder is arguably better known as an author of top-shelf mysteries in her native Great Britain than in the United States. I predict this is about to change. GONE, her latest novel published in America, is one of those books that dares you to put it down once you’ve started reading and then challenges you to forget it once you have finished.
GONE begins six months after the events of SKIN and is considered to be the third in the Walking Man series. British PI Jack Caffrey and police diver Phoebe “Flea” Marley are prominently featured, with both parties concealing different viewpoints of the same secret, to the detriment of what had been the beginnings of a relationship. Hayder does a wonderful job of bringing new readers up to date while refreshing the memories of those familiar with the series. He pulls this off without missing a step in advancing the story, which is terrifying from the start. The source of the terror is a masked criminal who carjacks a vehicle with an 11-year-old girl in the back seat. At first the kidnapping is thought to be accidental, but then Marley manages to connect the latest incident to two previous cases with startling similarities. Another child is soon abducted during another carjacking, yet is returned shortly thereafter.
When the incidents turn even more bizarre, Caffrey and his team are at a loss. Someone is making a fool of the police inspectors, while young, innocent lives hang in the balance. You’ve heard of a plot device called “the ticking clock”; GONE feels as if it has a houseful of them, all ready to chime the fateful hour in seconds, as Caffrey and his team are all too well aware that from a statistical standpoint their odds of finding a kidnap victim alive diminish dramatically after 24 hours. Then, at the height of the investigation, Marley goes missing after following up a lead on her own. Caffrey turns to the enigmatic Walking Man --- a person horribly disturbed by tragedy, brilliant by nature and homeless by choice --- and learns more than he asks for, even as lives hang in the balance. And Hayder isn’t content to make this an edge-of-the-seat mystery. Everyone who walks through the pages of GONE is at least a little bit whacked --- from the police investigators to the victimized parents, the doctors on the scene, and, most of all, Caffrey and Marley, each in their own ways.
The only way you can read GONE without having every nerve in your body jumping and screaming is if you are not paying attention. I will tell you from experience that if you have children in your home, you will be sorely tempted to sleep in front of their bedroom doors at night, like the Orwellian guardians who stand ready to defend those who would harm the innocent. Hayder is a storyteller par excellence, the compendium of the camp counselors who scared the living stuffing out of their charges around the campfire while strange and frightening noises issued from the dark. Even if you think you’ve figured things out after the first third of the book, you haven’t figured it all out. And Hayder, bless her, continues to drop charges into the water until practically the last paragraph.
If you have read her previous works, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re new to her craftsmanship, read GONE and be enthralled. Strongly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 28, 2011