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by Mo Hayder
Bantam, February 2010
416 pages
14.99 GBP
ISBN: 0593063813

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This is the first Mo Hayder book I've read, but it definitely won't be the last. I picked it up simply because the first sentence mentioned that the main character, Detective Inspector Jack Caffrey was from Bristol's Major Crime Unit and I usually enjoy books set in and around the city I've lived in for the last 30 years. I was hoping for some authentic West Country details and I wasn't disappointed. As an added bonus for me, there were also some caving and other underground scenes, so I was hooked from the start.

Caffrey is called in to investigate a car-jacking with a difference. The owner's eleven-year old daughter was on the back sear and is still missing. Similarities soon emerge with other cases in the area and Caffrey struggles to find a pattern in events. Then the car-jacker makes contact with the family and things take an even more sinister turn. Caffrey is certain that the abductor will strike again, and he does. With their quarry always managing to stay one jump ahead of the police at all times, Caffrey heads an investigation that brings him into collision with elements of his own past that he would prefer to leave buried.

Jack Caffrey isn't the only one determined to find the missing girl either. Flea Marley, who runs the police Underwater Search Unit, is called in to search a dangerous section of abandoned canal and soon goes well beyond acceptable risk-taking in pushing back the boundaries of the search. I found the character of Marley difficult to handle at first, as she came complete with the baggage of a back-story which I can only presume must have played a large part in one of the earlier books that I haven't read As a result, I floundered for a while in one of the book's sub-plots concerning a footballer's missing wife. In many ways, I think the book would have been better without this particular added complication as there was enough going on to make this more of a distraction than anything else. It's only contributions to the plot are to bring Caffery into conflict with one member of his team, which does have some bearing on later events and to flesh out the character of Marley, providing reasons for why she's allowed her unit to end up a demoralised mess, in danger of falling apart without some much-needed leadership.

I was also puzzled by the character of the Walking Man, another figure from Caffrey's past, who had only a very peripheral part to play and could easily have been dispensed with altogether.

The hunt for the missing girls is tense. Their families are well-drawn although certainly not always likeable and Hayder has a nice eye for detail when depicting minor characters. She's also researched enough about caving and other underground environments to make these scenes read well and convincingly, although some minor and inconsequential details made me feel she wasn't writing from direct experience, but it was a very creditable attempt, and will earn the book a place in my collection of novels which venture underground.

For me, the books main flaw lay in the baggage it draggled along with it from earlier novels, but a gripping plot, well-drawn characters and a decent pace more than made up for that.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, August 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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