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poppetWritten by Mo Hayder — Odd things have been happening at Beechway’s psychiatric unit, and AJ LeGrande, recently promoted from his nursing position, is becoming increasingly worried, not only about his staff, but about the patients. Workers have been calling in sick in order to avoid the nightshift and AJ has been doing more than his fair share of covering for them, so fatigue is a constant worry.

He genuinely cares about his patients and more than a few have been acting strangely, particularly the one who calls herself Monster Mother, who is convinced that once she removes her skin she becomes invisible. She also thinks she has given birth to all of the patients on the ward. She’s a gentle soul, but believes all of these children are monsters that have committed terrible deeds, and she’s been hinting that there is something wandering the halls of Beechway. Something called ‘The Maude.’

Things are indeed going from bad to worse, and if AJ can’t quell the rumours and the upset, he fears they could get unbearable, especially since the recent sudden death of a patient kicked things into high gear. When a patient named Isaac is released from Beechway, AJ fears the worst, as Isaac’s past is steeped in unthinkable brutality, but will anyone listen to his fears? He believes Isaac may have something to do with the events at Beechway, and the only person he can think of contacting for help is someone he’s only met briefly – Detective Inspector Jack Caffery. Before he can do that, he must dig into Isaac’s past and reconcile it with the present, and that will be more of a task than he ever could have imagined.

Meanwhile, Caffery is being hounded by the mother of Misty Kitson, whose disappearance has confounded the public. She feels that her daughter is dead, but wants desperately to have her body back for burial. It so happens that Jack knows where she is, and so does search and rescue diver Flea Marley. Flea is still struggling with the terrible events that led to Misty’s death back in the novel Skin, but she’s also dealing with other problems, like waiting for her eardrum to heal so that she can dive again, and winning back the trust of her team. Jack has an idea to get Misty’s body back and allow Flea to save face, but Flea remains nearly immovable in her determination to get on with her life, and keep Misty hidden. Eventually things will come to a head, however Jack has something far more immediate to deal with when AJ brings the events at Beechway to his attention.

If you’re already a Mo Hayder fan, you’ll know how she seamlessly blends police procedural with echoes of the supernatural. Poppet is no exception, with its story of a damaged young man who makes dolls, or poppets, out of most gruesome materials. Things are not always what they seem and Hayder’s capacity to shock has never waned, nine books into her career.

I’m always happy to follow along with Jack while he investigates his cases, but in Poppet, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself taken with AJ and his very colourful, and cranky aunt, whom he’s lived with since his mother’s death. He’s very different from Jack, but they share the same capacity for good and the desire to see things right. I’d love to see him again in future novels.

Crime writing, and writing in general, doesn’t get much better than this, and even though this is the sixth Jack Caffery book, it can certainly be read and enjoyed stand-alone. Be warned though, it’ll have you hooked, and you’ll find yourself seeking out the rest of Hayder’s work. Poppet is an intricate, downright creepy, superior example of everything that’s right in crime fiction today.

Bantam Press

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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