Mo Hayder works the horror side of the street in this novel. The criminals Caffery tracks this time around are pedophiles, some believed to be involved with his brother's disappearance and one or more involved with a case he's working on now. A family in a working-class area of Brixton was imprisoned in their home for three days while terrible things happened. The son is missing as the novel begins, while the father is in a coma in the hospital and the mother knows nothing relevant, having been imprisoned inside an upstairs closet the whole time while mysterious things happened downstairs. And Caffery's almost certain that another family may already be prisoners in their own home.
The procedural aspects of the novel are very well-done, from hunches to lab work to the sort of tiny mistakes that can have major repercussions. Caffery's personal trauma makes him a darkly sympathetic figure, especially as his brother's disappearance seems more and more to have something to do with the present-day case. Most of the supporting characters are nicely drawn, from the horrible and damaged female pedophile/victim Tracey Lamb to Caffery's partner, the almost Falstaffian lesbian DCI Danni Souness.
Caffery's girlfriend Rebecca, a modern artist and rape survivor whom Caffery met in the previous novel, is a bit more of a problem. She's certainly wacky, tortured, and interesting. But Caffery and Rebecca's relationship problems draw the reader away from the twisty coils of the main plot and its interconnectedness with Caffery's own past. I ended up skimming some of the later sections dealing with Rebecca. Bad me.
Hayder does have a totalizing tendency to link everything together in this novel. It's understandable, though perhaps a bit too glib simply in a plotting sense. The interconnectness is justified by Caffery's thoughts early on about pedophiles being like some sort of malign slime mold, all part of an enormous organism. But it's still a bit too pat.
As noted, the novel in its entirety shades towards horror in its graphic depictions (and less graphic suggestiveness) of terrible human evil. There are moments that suggest some sort of supernatural connection between Caffery and his lost brother, though these can be explained away. The central antagonist, known in popular lore as a troll who haunts the regional park, is one hell of a creation. And the novel plays fair with its revelations and plot mechanisms. Recommended.
Ritual (Jack Caffery #3) by Moe Hayder (2008): Mo Hayder notes in the afterword to this novel that she had no intention of telling any more stories about tortured English DI Jack Caffery. But return she would eventually. This time around we've got a second lead (police diver Phoebe 'Flea' Marley) and a new location (Jack's moved to the Glastonbury area, having grown tired of London).
But the horror elements remain in this police procedural, as Jack and Flea track down whoever it was that dropped a human hand into the harbour. Then another hand turns up. They're from the same person, they're fresh, and both were severed while the victim was alive.
Jack's a little less tortured by his long-lost brother's disappearance this time around, though not by much. Flea has been tortured for two years by the deaths of her parents on a deep-diving trip in Africa, their bodies never recovered from 'Bushman's Hole' in the Kalahari. She also feels guilt that she and not her brother should have been on the dive. The brother survived, unable to stop his parents' sudden plunge into the abysmal depths; Flea believes she could have done something, despite the fact that all deep-diving protocols suggest that had she done so, she would have died too.
So the two work the case, initially separately and, in Flea's case, unofficially. Evidence begins to accumulate that the homeless and the drug-addicted are being harvested for body parts and blood, part of some mysterious underground traffic in the more disturbing elements of religions from specific parts of Africa. Some witnesses report seeing what looks like a demonic South African familiar. And something that Caffery never quite gets a glimpse of is following the detective.
Ritual is quite sensitive to issues of acculturation and cultural appropriation when it comes to Africa -- as one academic says to Jack near the end of the novel, Caffery needs to realize that the term "African black magic" is a demeaning simplification that doesn't take into account the great number of different religions and cults on that vast continent.
Ritual plays fair with its information, though it posits connections among every character in the novel that stretch credibility by the end to just about the breaking point. Flea Marley is nicely drawn, with her own problems, though her growing infatuation with Caffery may soon become an even bigger problem. Hayder pares down Caffery's personal life -- he's left the girlfriend of the previous novel and now frequents prostitutes rather than get emotionally involved with other human beings. But he also begins to forge an initially curious relationship with a homeless wanderer dubbed The Walking Man, a relationship that's perhaps too gimmicky by half but nonetheless fascinating. Recommended.