Paperback: 544 pages
Publication Date: 12/02/2015
As someone with a number of ties to Bristol, and who visits the area a few times a year, I have to admit that Mo Hayder’s recent Jack Caffery novels set in the area have tended to make me a little uneasy when I now visit the city and surrounding countryside. And her latest book, Wolf, does nothing mitigate these – possibly undeserved – fears and prejudices.
Focussed on Turrets, a remote estate in Somerset, the recurring theme of the novel is how the past haunts us. So when Matilda Anchors-Ferrers finds bloody entrails draped across the trees of her garden, it serves as a grisly reminder of a murder committed fifteen years previously in the area. Then, the boyfriend of the Anchors-Ferrers’ daughter – along with another girl – were brutally murdered and disembowelled. But when the Anchors-Ferrers are taken captive and tortured by home invaders the links to those past murders grow ever stronger.
Caffery, unwillingly drawn into a search by the mysterious and equally haunted Walking Man, but compelled by his obsessive investigation into the disappearance of his brother decades before, slowly circles rural Somerset as the plot draws him ever closer to the goings-on at Turrets.
As a thriller, Wolf certainly feels more of the psychological than the procedural kind. For all the time that Caffery spends investigating the small dog handed to him by the Walking Man – a dog with the message “Help Us” attached to its collar – this is an investigation done outside the confines of the police force. And, in any case, the real terror and nastiness of this plot all revolves around the environs of Turrets.
All of the scenes there are filled with menace and an ominous foreboding, made all the more palpable by the two hostage-takers – Ian the Geek and Honig. Both, in their own ways, are really nasty characters, who use violence – both real and psychological – over the inhabitants. And it is that idea, of people bursting into your house, into the place where you should feel safest, that makes this book so terrifying. Beyond mobile phone reception, and cut off from the world around, the Anchors-Ferrers family are at the mercy of their captors.
It makes for some incredibly atmospheric and claustrophobic scenes, as the reader grows increasingly unsure of whether the family will survive – and whether the attack on the house was indeed random. And I found myself completely caught up in the read. That being said, as the novel reached its denouement, and the curtain was pulled back on the big reveal, I have to admit that not only did I see it coming from quite a long way out, but certain coincidences (which I will leave opaquely oblique to avoid giving them away) border on the absurd. So my major criticism of the novel was that, removed from the intensity of the violence and atmosphere, elements of the plot did feel a little forced.