Wolf: A Jack Caffery Thriller
2014 has been an extraordinarily good year for mystery and thriller novels thus far. There are a number of riveting debuts that seem to arrive by the week, while several established authors have met and exceeded expectations they previously created. Such was the state of affairs when I picked up WOLF by Mo Hayder. Perfectly and wonderfully paced, and imaginatively plotted and written, it may well replace Scott Turow’s PRESUMED INNOCENT as my all-time favorite novel. Seriously.
Hayder’s primary protagonist is troubled Detective Inspector Jack Caffery, who has been haunted by the childhood disappearance of his brother throughout the series. Caffery has infrequent interactions with a local vagrant-by-choice known as the Walking Man, a gentleman whose son similarly disappeared years ago and seemingly wanders here and there for miles each day in search of him. There is a method to the Walking Man’s madness, as he is a gatherer and repository of knowledge, dark and otherwise. His relationship with Caffery as a result is complicated at best. The Walking Man makes a very brief appearance as WOLF begins, showing a little girl a stray dog that bears an enigmatic message on its collar.
"There are twists and turns aplenty here --- not so many as to be confusing, but just enough to keep the reader reading incessantly from first sentence to last paragraph."
The narrative of the story by turns shifts: first to Caffery, who abruptly walks off the job, determined to discover the fate of his brother after all these decades, once and for all; then to a home where a family touched by tragedy makes a grisly discovery reminiscent of a horror that touched their lives over a decade previously. Before they are able to call the authorities, two investigators appear, making inquiries about a brutal murder that has occurred in the neighborhood. This seems to tie in with what the family found, and indeed it does, but not in the way they expect.
By the time WOLF reaches its startling and heartrending conclusion, a home invasion and its aftermath will take place, which won’t be forgotten anytime soon; Caffery will go to amazing lengths to locate the owners of that stray dog, who may indirectly provide a clue to its owners’ identity; and blood-curdling sins of the past will be called to justice at last. And for those of you who have been on the wild ride that Hayder has put Caffery on since the beginning, he does learn his brother’s final fate. It’s an answer that will only lead to further questions.
There are twists and turns aplenty here --- not so many as to be confusing, but just enough to keep the reader reading incessantly from first sentence to last paragraph. Hayder waits until a little over halfway through the book to introduce one of the most interesting characters I have encountered in fiction this year, a bartender who I hope is brought back in a future installment. You will know her when you see her; she is much too interesting to consign to a Houdini twist (here one day, gone the next) of forgotten characters. That, however, is a decision left for another day. For now, read WOLF; you simply will never forgive yourself if you don’t.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 30, 2014