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A White Knuckle Ride with MO HAYDER

Written by Christine Campbell


The Treatment


The Treatment is the continuation of Mo Hayder’s debut best seller Birdman, featuring DI Jack Caffrey of the Met’s murder squad. Although each book can be read separately, they are better described a two parts of a body of work. Both books delve into aspects of human nature that we try and isolate, suppress and package away in a newspaper headline. With expressive violence and descriptive torture, not only of the characters but also of the reader, who is plunged into the dark world of debased human nature, I approached my interview with Mo Hyder with expected temerity. I found reading both books difficult and at times distasteful, struggling to get past the bare-faced violence to the tightly wound plot and overall study of a man stripped of everything, leaving him faced with his own morality. 

At her own admittance Mo Hayder deliberately pushed the boundaries of the typical crime novel to explore the grey areas of the flawed hero, telling a tale of choices and actions and the consequences of them. The introduction of Jack in Birdman along with the establishment of his personal mystery and the interwoven official crime is built upon in The Treatment drawing his personal and professional worlds so closely together that they feed upon each other. The search for what happened to his brother Ewen, is the single most defining characteristic of Jack. This obsession that has driven him since that day his brother disappeared envelopes The Treatment to become the primary subject matter. Jack’s investigation of a missing boy in Brixton, draws him into the world of the paedophile, both that of Pendrecki, the man he suspects took his brother, and that of those involved in the disappearance of the boy in Brixton. 

Mo Hayder deliberately chose paedaphilia as the defining crime in this novel, not only to give her a forum in which to explore Ewen’s story further but a way to probe into the family unit. Most cases of paedaphilia involve a person known to the child, and with this in mind Hayder explores “the dark view of family life”. This disintegration of the family is not only limited to Jack’s own family and those victim of the crimes he is investigating, but to any family portrayed in the book, as Hayder says, this theme is introduced due to”her reaction against the hypocrisy of perfect families” that are reinforced by the media and society. This rebellion against the boundaries society places around themselves is a major factor behind the excesses within the novel. Hayder seems to exorcise her need to breakdown these boundaries not only by the intensity violent descriptions, but also by the plot structure and character development, pushing the reader into the uncomfortable and difficult, - capturing them like a witness that cannot turn away from an accident that they can see is going to happen.

Surrounding this tightly woven plot and intense study of human nature is South London. Hayder takes the preconceived notions of Brixton and other South London locals, and throws them away, exposing communities that are more than the headline in the newspaper depicting another gang orientated death. The constantly changing urban environment seeps into the novel, adding to the layers of realism and the fear that the story unfolding could quite easily have happened. Hayder may push the boundaries of description and plot developments, however while she was researching and planning the novel, the Sarah Payne story broke, holding the newspapers hostage as well as the public. 

This high profile case caused Hayder to hesitate about continuing the novel, however she felt that although these are difficult issues, there is still a need to deal with it. Hayder has a healthy respect for the reader as she said, “ I don’t like to narrate feelings for readers, they need to make up their own minds.” This approach adds to Hayder’s step away from underpinning the story by moral message. She overturns the traditional approach of the crime novel especially with a central character like Jack Caffrey. Jack walks a fine line between good and evil, his actions in his personal and professional life go even further than the hard boiled protagonists of the noir crime genre. 

Jack’s actions are not placed in isolation as a plot mechanic, as Hayder dissects human nature further by having the consequences of these actions impact the story even more. Just as we are as readers will never be aware of some of the repercussions of all our actions, Hayder illustrates this realistic aspect of life within these two novels not only with Jack but with all the characters. These characters surrounding Jack Caffrey are well rounded and are as multi layered., however they are just that - surrounding Jack. This story is essentially about one man, each character is a reflection, an alternative or have another function in telling his story. The under lying factor is that The Treatment essentially gives a conclusion to the mission driving Jack Caffrey’s life. It leaves the reader satisfied with their final glimpse of him. 

This is going to be the last Mo Hayder book featuring Jack Caffrey. Hayder is writing her third novel, drawing on her experiences in Japan, where she lived for two years. She will take a step even further away from crime as this novel will be more of a thriller with less of the description heavy violence that dominated her previous novels. She would give no other clues about it, however I look forward to reading it as the promise of less expressive violence and descriptive torture, will ensure that this reader will find it easier to delve into the rich text of this talented writer. 

Mo Hayder

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