Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book Review: Gone by Mo Hayder

Author: Mo Hayder
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Pages: 416 (NOOK Edition: 396)) 
Publication Date: February 1, 2011 

      Mo Hayder is a British mystery and thriller author who has written eight novels to much acclaim.  Gone is the fifth in a series featuring Detective Jack Caffery and was selected by the Mystery Writers of America as the 2012 Edgar Award Winner for best mystery novel.  I usually tend to agree with the Mystery Writers, but not in this case.

     Gone follows Detective Caffery's investigation of several car-jackings.  These are far from routine auto thefts, however, because in each case a young girl is in the car when it is stolen.  The need to find these children as quickly as possible adds another dimension of tension to an already nerve-wracking story.  There are several sub-plots working here as well which make the plot a bit more involved than it need be.  

     The story is told from Jack Caffery's perspective as he chases down false leads and tries to find connections between the seemingly unrelated crimes.  There are many other characters involved, including other police, parents of the abducted children, witnesses and persons of interest.  Caffery is portrayed as a tortured, lonely soul who labors under the weight of unsolved crimes and feelings of inadequacy.  There isn't much back story to substantiate these feelings except for one unsolved missing celebrity case which he suspects may involve one of his co-workers.  (I haven't read the other four books in this series, so maybe the reasons for Caffery's angst is in those.)  With each new crime in the series the tension is ratcheted up, but a whole new set of players are introduced.  I think the plot is weighted down by too many minor characters.

     The author does a tremendous job of using setting as a method of creating atmosphere and tension.  There is a creepy abandoned wharehouse, a railroad tunnel and lots of lonely English countrysides searched which add a lot to the menacing tone of the entire novel.  Here is one paragraph as an example of this.  A female detective is inspecting an area near where one of the stolen cars had been abandoned:
     "She went to the old water tank where she had been standing and switched off the torch.  She waited for a few quiet moments, surrounded by the monster shapes of the winter trees, beyond them the ploughed fields stretching away, dull, immense and dead.   From somewhere in the distance to her right came the giant sound of a train racing along the Great Western Union Railway, flying through the darkness."

     The strength of this book is the descriptions of setting and place.  The weaknesses, in my opinion, come from too many characters which aren't developed to any great degree, a plot which becomes weighted down by all of these characters and has too many unresolved secondary stories and, finally, a criminal whose motivation doesn't really fit the magnitude of his crimes.  Gone is very worth reading for mystery fans and is much better than more hyped mystery fiction (e.g, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn).  I just don't agree with the Mystery Writers of America that this was the best mystery novel published in 2011.

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