Series: Jack Caffery
Book Number: 1
Read this book for: extra-creepy serial killers, solid police procedure, detectives with a troubled personal life
Quick Review: Mo Hayder writes a tight, fast-paced page-turner of a thriller, but this one is not a book for everyone – be prepared for a lot of very dark, very shocking topics.
DI Jack Caffery has a home life that is falling apart – he has a girlfriend who he is becoming more disconnected from and an obsession with the neighbour who backs his property. He’s assigned to a case involving five young women that have been brutally murdered and dumped near London’s Millennium Dome, which not only brings back shadows of his past that haunt him, but throws him into a race to stop the next murder before it happens.
BIRDMAN is the debut novel from Mo Hayder – a crime thriller that uses shock as its main device to propel a story of horrific brutality and graphic violence forward, but remains a decent read with its combination of writing, technical procedural detail and fairly well-developed characters. I finished it in a day!
I want to start this review with a warning: this is not your average cozy mystery. Be prepared to be shocked, appalled and generally grossed out by the content and descriptions of the victims and their treatment by this particular killer. I’m far from squeamish and have read a lot of really terrible things but this surprised me with the level of detail in the extremely graphic depictions.
While shocking content in itself is not a bad thing, it can be overdone, and this one occasionally crossed the line into “over the top” territory. It’s a special pet peeve of mine when I come across serial killers with a ridiculously elaborate M.O., and this one threatened to go that far. However, because I can kind of understand the logic behind the killer’s actions, I’m not going to put it quite into that category, but it is borderline.
Those are the only real faults I can find with BIRDMAN. Overall, the writing is perfectly balanced and paced, with short chapters and fast-moving action. One thing I did really appreciate was the impact of those mundane moments at home. The way the pacing crashed to a halt around the home scenes of Caffery was a really good way for readers to actually experience the way that detectives can become wrapped up in the case to the point of being unable to function in their own lives outside of work. The reader wants to hear more about the case, and keeps thinking about the case, and you can see and feel the toll that the distraction takes on Caffery’s relationships, and why he keeps reverting back to the case of his missing brother when he is at home.
Another special mention has to go to the use of procedural detail in BIRDMAN. It’s realistic, it’s sharp, and the precise nature of the detail actually adds to the believability and the overall pacing and tone of the novel. It really helps to immerse you in the proceedings.
Jack Caffery is also a fairly engaging character. While some of the characters are quite clichéd for a detective novel (including the killer), Jack is realistic and relatable. His team, while not particularly memorable, also felt fairly realistic.
This book is also not a mystery in the sense that there are chapters from the killer’s point of view that begin fairly early on in the book. I tend to like the process of figuring it out “whodunnit”, but read as a thriller, it does work. It also goes some way toward trying to help the reader understand their motivation, which is a near-impossible task given the nature of his acts.
Don’t read BIRDMAN if you’re jumpy, or alone with the lights off, or if you are at all squeamish. If you can stomach it though, make sure you have some time because once you start, you will not move until you finish the very last page!