Ritual: A Novel

The heroine of Mo Hayder’s latest novel, Ritual, is Sergeant Flea Marley, a female police diver who, one April afternoon, finds an amputated hand in the murky waters of Bristol Harbor. A predictable opening for a police procedural, but we are also in for horror. “She gave the hand a experimental tug?.it floated free of the silt, coming away easily. At the place where a wrist should be there was just raw bone and gristle.” Hayder plunges us into a claustrophobic, distorted world, just as she did in her previous, and perhaps finest, novel, Pig Island. We resurface spooked and unsettled by her vivid depiction of drug addiction, prostitution, murder, sadism, insanity and, of course, body parts. “f there was one thing he?d been around the block with it was the mutilation of the human body,” exhausted chief inspector Jack Caffrey reflects, “and he’d known more distressing combinations of the way the familiar can become the unfamiliar than he cared to remember.” Caffrey, introduced in Hayder?s early novel Birdman, here works alongside Flea Marley on killings that are connected to drugs but that also expose a black market for body parts, right there in quaint old Bristol. The investigation is, however, just one strand in an intricate, often brutal novel of shifting perspectives and disconcerting echoes. Hayder keeps us guessing not only about what is happening but also about who these people are. The familiar becomes the horribly unfamiliar as, with clinical precision and yet palpable compassion, she once again reveals the human heart to be the most damaged body part of all.