Evil stalks the inhabitants of a remote Scottish island in the bestselling British author’s fourth in-your-face thriller (The Devil of Nanking, 2005, etc.).
Pig Island is home to the religious cult Psychogenic Healing Ministries, whose members live safely apart from their founder Malachi Dove, a deranged visionary who holes up (rather like Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kurtz) in a valley behind a barricade festooned with severed pigs’ heads. The possibility that the Psychogenics are practicing devil worship adds to the mix of elements of the classic British film The Wicker Man. Oh, and there’s a not-exactly-human beast roaming the neighborhood—which could of course have been “created” by the island’s former exploitation as a dumping-ground for chemical waste. These beguiling oddities attract the attention of hoax-busting reporter Joe Oakes (his earlier exposure of Pastor Dove’s doings had forced the cult’s flight to Pig Island), who travels to the site with his spunky wife Lexie, with whom he shares the narration. In the past, Hayder has masterfully toyed with readers’ nerves, but here the big payoff fizzles: Neither the identity of The Creature nor the ponderous shock ending is nearly as surprising as the author seems to think. The novel is further flawed by more product placement than you’ll see in your average California-inflected slacker flick. Hayder’s use of outré plots, settings and characters is both the strength of her earlier fiction and the source of a formula that’s rapidly hardening into cliché.
When she’s on, she’s an adventurous, edgy, literate writer. This book is, alas, far from her best.