The Edgar Awards Revisited: Gone by Mo Hayder (Best Novel, 2012)
By Gabino IglesiasFebruary 14, 2020
Mo Hayder's Gone follows the investigation of a brilliant and twisted carjacker with a disturbing game to play.
Mo Hayder’s Gone reads like two novels wrapped together by the same case. There are two characters that could qualify as main characters and their narratives contain enough action, tension, and drama to count as two novellas. However, Hayder weaved them together under the umbrella of a case that begins with what seemed like a simple carjacking and then morphs into something far more sinister. Full of anxiety and questions without answers, this is a dense, complex novel that explores the dark side of those on the right side of the law as well as what happens when a monster preys on children.
Jack Caffery’s newest case started as a simple carjacking. While bad, a carjacking is a prosaic crime in which, if everything goes well, no one is hurt. Caffery has seen plenty of them and remains unfazed. Unfortunately, as the case progresses it becomes clear that the man who took the car wasn’t looking for a new set of wheels; he was after the eleven-year-old girl in the backseat. Has he done this before? Will he do it again? What will happen next? While Caffery tackles those questions, Flea Marley, a police diver Sergeant, develops her own theory of the case, which seems to align somewhat with what Caffery is beginning to think. Marley, who’s hiding a horrible secret of her own in a watery cave and dealing with plenty of issues in the department she oversees, is deeply unsettled by the case, and she soon finds something that affects her in many ways. At the center of the case is an extremely clever criminal who sends creepy messages and hints at awful crimes perpetrated on a young girl. Caffrey and Marley are forced to put the bizarre pieces of the case together and find the man behind it before more young girls fall victim to him.
Gone is a hybrid crime novel that mixes police procedural elements with those of a thriller and sprinkles the kind of horror that is usually only found in serial killer narratives. Also, the way Hayder presents Caffrey and Marley is interesting because they are extremely flawed while also clearly being the good guys and having the best intentions. In Caffrey’s case, he is desperate and it shows. He isn’t as nice as he should be with witnesses and lets his desperation get the best of him from time to time. In the case of Marley, there is something she’s hiding that, if ever found, would immediately make her a criminal in the eyes of the law and she is struggling to keep her department active and engaged. Cops in crime narratives are either anti-heroes or almost perfect, and these two definitely belong to the first camp. They are imperfect, but that makes them human and relatable and adds a level of empathy to the story that goes above and beyond what readers will fell for the parents of the missing girl.
Hayder is a talented storyteller. She has a knack for introducing a character and immediately making them fit into the story. Also, she pays attention to detail and that enriches the narrative tremendously. While this is sometimes a bit much, it never becomes something that hurts the novel or an element that bogs down the pacing for long. It always walks a fine line between being too much and being just the right amount. It might hinder enjoyment for those who like their crime fiction to move forward at breakneck speed because there are endless details that include movements, descriptions of places, and even events like having tea. However, the core of the story is so gripping that even those who want fast-paced action will forgive Hayder her occasional overwriting and keep turning the pages to see what’s next. Also, the details sometimes help readers get a sense of entire lives, of whole situations, in less than a page. Take, for example, this couple, which are introduced in chapter 16:
Janice Costello was about as certain as she could be that her husband was having an affair. Cory had been coming to this group-therapy session for three years, and she was pretty sure he’d developed a ‘friendship’ with one of the women. At first it had been just a nagging suspicion, just a sense that something wasn’t right—a distance about him, not coming to bed when she did and long, unexplained absences when he took his car and claimed to have ‘just been driving around and thinking.’ There were unexpected arguments over unimportant things—the way she answered the phone or put vegetables on the plate at dinner, even the mustard she chose. Mustard. How stupid was that? A standup screaming match over the fact he wanted grains because English mustard was ‘so parochial. For Christ’s sake, Janice, can’t you see that?’
Gone is the fifth novel in the Jack Caffery series and reading the previous four will definitely help readers get a better sense of where the main character is coming from and what got Marley’s department to its current state. However, there is enough background information to make this an enjoyable read even for those who are new to the series. The book is full of tension and makes readers feel uncomfortable because of what may or may not be happening to children at the hands of a monster that, based on the letter he writes, is enjoying himself too much hurting others.
Notes from the 2012 Edgar Awards:
- Hayder beat out Anne Hold (1222), Philip Kerr (Field Gray), Keigo Higashino (The Devotion of Suspect X), and Ace Atkins (The Ranger) for the Best Novel Edgar.
- Lori Roy took home the Best First Novel for her Bent Road. She beat out Leonard Rosen’s All Cry Chaos, David Duffy’s Last to Fold, Steve Ulfelder’s Purgatory Chasm, and Edward Conlon’s Red on Red.
- On Conan Doyle: Or, the Whole Art of Storytelling by Michael Dirda won the Best Biography.
- Best Short Story went to Peter Turnbull for “The Man Who Took His Hat Off to the Driver of the Train,” beating out entries from Diana Gabaldon, John C. Boland, Bradley Denton, David Dean, and Neil Gaiman.
- Sara J. Henry’s Learning to Swim won the Mary Higgins Clark Award.
- Martha Grimes served as the Grand Master.
We’ll see everyone back here next week as Joanna Schaffhausen checks in with a review of Live by Night by Dennis Lehane, the 2013 Edgar Award winner of Best Novel. See you then!
A special thanks goes out to The Mysterious Bookshop for donating many of the review copies of the award-winning books. For the latest on all new releases, as well as classic books for your collections, make sure to sign up for their newsletter.