The Ritual (Mo Hayder) ***½
When it comes to thrillers and crime fiction, I’m stuck in a quandary in the sense that I usually like the idea better than the execution. My main problem is that so many books within the genre seem so badly written: the characters are flat, the prose is hokey and the authors always seem to want to outdo each other by coming up with either the goriest or the most outlandish plots. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but they can be hard to find sometimes.
One author who definitely beats expectations there (or used to, at least; she sadly passed away last year. You suck, ALS) is Mo Hayder. The Ritual, the third installment of the Jack Caffery series, is well-written and she thankfully seems to have abandoned the extreme gore from the first two books, though this one is by no means tame.
In it, we meet Phoebe ‘Flea’ Marley, who works as a specialised diver for a rural British police force. When body parts are found floating down a river, she sets out to discover who did it, working with – and sometimes against – Jack Caffery, an experienced detective with a troubled backstory who’s left London to start anew.
I actually liked the way the two played off each other: there are no obvious romantic connotations. They just work together. They don’t even bond that much. And Flea, as a diver, is not really part of the investigation; she’s much more involved through her family’s connections. She frequently hides things from Caffery or hinders the investigation, sometimes unknowingly, sometimes not.
Yet the book failed to grab me, despite the fact that it’s well-written with solid characters – even minor characters have a bit of depth without being over the top or distracting from the story; that’s not an easy thing to achieve. I’m not sure why that is. This is a reread for me and I honestly couldn’t remember a single detail about the plot.
It also didn’t age particularly well. There’s a risk involved with a white woman writing about African witchcraft and Hayder doesn’t get away with it entirely. For one, most of the book goes on about ‘African’ witchcraft and it takes the characters way to long to bring up the fact that Africa is BIG and there’s no such thing as ‘African’ in this sense, and even then it’s conveniently ignored. I think Hayder was aiming for dark and mysterious and in that way, it works, but she could’ve handled the subject with a bit more care.
Magnus (Arjen Lubach) ***
Merlijn Kaiser is an Amsterdam playwright. His childhood sweetheart Caro has just left him and he has no idea what to do with himself, so when, one day, the credit card company calls to ask him about some suspicious purchases in Stockholm, he lies and tells them it’s fine. The next day he books a ticket to Sweden and sets out to find who’s stealing his money.
I’m not sure how much sense there is in reviewing this book here – as far as I know it hasn’t been translated into English – but whatever: it’s a book and I read it.
I like Arjen Lubach. He’s best known (at least in the Netherlands) as a late night TV show host, though he’s a bit of an all rounder: he also makes music, he’s a theatre maker and he writes. He’s good at what he does, but still the novel was a bit of a slog.
Parts of it I enjoyed. Lubach has a keen eye for describing what high school life is like and Merlijn thinking back to the days where he met Caro are fun to read about, as is the mystery that unfolds as he gets to Sweden.
What I liked less is that once again, we have a white man (not middle aged, but not that far off either) who is a playwright (they’re always playwrights or directors or writers) and who ends up bedding an eighteen year old (who is, of course, wise beyond her years). It’s par for the course and it’s annoying, particularly because I’d expected better from Lubach, who’s normally pretty keen and sharp, so for him to fall into this particular trap is at the very least unexpected.
Other than that, the book was okay for me. I had fun reading it but it was altogether not particularly memorable.