The world of child sexual molestation is explored in graphic and disturbing detail in this nastily efficient thriller, a follow-up to British author Hayder’s impressive debut (Birdman, 1999).
Once again, the protagonist is burnt-out police detective Jack Caffery, burdened by memories of his brother’s long-ago disappearance (and probably murder by a registered sex offender), and his girlfriend Rebecca’s arduous recovery from a brutal rape. The story focuses initially on the discovery of a London couple in their suburban home, severely beaten and dehydrated, their eight-year-old son missing. Hayder builds tension expertly, as Caffery (under the watchful friendly eye of his boss, Hogarthian lesbian DCI Danniella Souness) enters the maze of sex crime files, gradually discovering linkages between his current case and the criminal history of Ivan Penderecki, the neighbor who had almost certainly murdered young Ewan Caffery. In a capably handled series of parallel plots (of which there are, arguably, one or two too many), Hayder depicts several ongoing forensic examinations and investigations, the ordeal of another London family victimized by “the troll” (as the killer is now named), the apprehension of wretched Tracey Lamb (the sister of a sexual predator, who had “appeared” in films he took of molestations in progress), the stories of surviving former victims, and the machinations of the (uncaught) troll, a suitably monstrous invert whose acts constitute a “treatment” devised to restore his own sexual health. There’s rather too much attention paid to Caffery’s troubled intimacy with Rebecca (which provides both contrast to the plot’s emphasis on perversions, and grimly ironic echoes of them), and a climactic last-minute rescue has “movie version” written all over it. Nevertheless, Hayder makes most of it work.
Readers who haven’t OD’d on The Silence of the Lambs and its many imitators (the otherwise excellent Birdman was one) should find Hayder’s sequel a salutary and gripping scare.