02 November 2013

Birdman, Mo Hayder

This novel is awful. The plot is cliché-ridden and could have been lifted from any number of TV crime dramas. A serial killer (with some medical knowledge) preying on prostitutes; London detectives with racial prejudice and puerile humour; endless references to wasteland near the Millennium Dome; Jamaican drug dealers with at least twenty words for the same substance. Puh-lease! I'm not going to consider the story because it has all been done before in 'Prime Suspect' etc.

The writing is poor. Chapters begin with unidentified pronouns, word choice is sometimes jarring and inappropriate. Descriptions are peppered with brand names dropped from the most exclusive catalogues which comes across as the author showing off and the worst sin of all...Hayder loses her readers' trust by introducing inaccurate observations.

Such as: a man is reclining in the bath. He sinks lower and the St. Christopher medallion, on a chain around his neck, floats to the surface and bobs by his chin. When you know that solid metal does not float you start to doubt other references. Consider also the flies seen gathering above the outdoor floodlight. Yes, above. That has no basis in reality and anyway, how would you even see them. An abductor, lurking out of sight in the rear seat of a very small car jumps over seatbacks into the front. Pretty much impossible for a man described as overweight, especially as all car seats contemporary with publication were equipped with head restraints which come close to the roof.

Then there is the strange colour-shifting: at one point I read about 'brown' clouds; next a policeman's white shirt is stuck to his chest with 'yellow' sweat. She talks about the Police driving Sierras. Not in 1999 they didn't because Ford discontinued that model in 1993. I ended up not believing much she wrote.

So what about the action and the little descriptors which bring scenes to life? Oh dear, policemen seem unable to talk to the occupant of any parked car without first leaning their elbows on the roof and poking their heads through the window. Car drivers only ever speak to their rear seat passengers after hooking their arm around the back of their seat. I have never known so many characters to rock back on their heels and look at the sky/clouds/rain, some several times. Goodness me, such lack of balance.

I listened to the audio book version 'performed' by Damien Goodwin, and he's just as much to blame for this mess. I laughed out loud at some of his pronunciation howlers. Hic-cough does not rhyme with 'off'! Oh, and the median cubital vein used for venipuncture has the first syllable stressed. It's not spoken as 'muh-dee-un'. While on matters medical how about 'meta-bow-lite'! OK, we all know it's 'met-ábo-lite' but should we really have to make these mental corrections as we go?

I persevered despite these weaknesses because, perhaps unwittingly, Mo Hayder has created an interesting central character. Jack Caffrey is a hard-drinking cop somewhat wed to the job, attractive to women but unable to sustain a regular relationship. Here the familiarity ends. His dialogue is clipped, short to the point of rudeness; he doesn't tell anyone about his personal life or his background which includes a brother abducted and missing since childhood. Caffrey is a self-deprecating anti-hero who deserves a superior setting.

No comments: