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by Mo Hayder
Bantam, April 2006
352 pages
ISBN: 0593049713

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this, her fourth novel, Mo Hayder is unlikely to provoke the description 'gentle' from readers perusing the work. Tough and brutal as ever, this time she turns her searchlight gaze onto unreasoning cults, charismatic leaders, deluded followers, would-be unfaithful wives, unprincipled journalists (surely a contradiction in terms!) birth defects and overworked police.

Joe Oakes is set to renew acquaintance with Malachi Dove, a preacher he encountered in his student days. Posing as a cancer sufferer named Joe Finn, Oakesy hoodwinked Dove who, at the time, ran a scam in which he 'cured' people of various afflictions. Joe wrote an article debunking Dove, who vowed revenge.

Now, 20 years later, Oakesy, together with his wife Lexie, drive to Oban in the west of Scotland in order that the journalist may go to Pig Island, a place owned by Dove. His journey is at the behest of a community formerly comprising Dove's followers but who are now disillusioned and wish to have the fraudster declared incompetent so that they may administer Dove's assets.

Oakesy is obsessed with a video purporting to show a creature, half beast, half man, that roams the island. When he visits the island, he learns that although the islanders are reputed by the townsfolk to practise Satanism, it is Dove to whom the former followers attribute Satanic practices and the rumour of the strange creature.

The journalist is appalled, on a later visit to the island, to discover the inhabitants have been murdered. He also learns something of the nature of the creature thought by many to be of satanic origin.

Once more, Hayder has produced a masterpiece of horror. The eerie atmosphere of the island is beautifully evoked to the extent it is almost possible for the reader to imagine the distinct odour of rotting pig flesh to be actually assaulting the nose. The characterisations are very strong although the only one owning any degree of attractiveness is one of the minor players, a policeman named Danso.

The story is narrated from two main viewpoints, that of Oakesy and of his wife, Lexie. Mind, the latter comes across as being exceedingly vapid, foolish and snobbish to the extent it seems remarkable that a reasonably astute journalist should have married her. Nonetheless, the two viewpoints are able to produce a more three-dimensional picture than would, perhaps, a single viewpoint.

A surprise ending will no doubt make the reader wish to re-read sections in order to look for clues that a first reading will not make obvious but it is recommended that one avoid such perusals late at night!

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, March 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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