If I were David Montgomery and had a crime-fiction blurb factory, what I’d say about Pig Island, Mo Hayder’s latest, is "Lord of the flies on speed", but this has probably been said before. No captain to restore the status quo at the end of this book either, of course.
Of Mo Hayder‘s four books to date, the first two were a linked pair about a London detective trying to solve grisly ritual murders (Birdman) and the case of a kidnapped child (the Treatment). The best part by far about these books was the tragic and utterly bleak subplot of the main character’s own brother, who vanished as a child. The third book, Tokyo (called The Devil of Nanking in the USA) featured an amazingly powerful story about a main character who is obsessed with the Nanking massacre of the 1930s (of which I had never previously heard) and a particular atrocity rumoured to have occurred there. These three books certainly don’t work in some aspects (the plot of Tokyo degenerates into James Bond farce, despite the powerful core dilemma), but they all contain extremely disturbing and imaginative writing, in which the author just keeps on hammering away at things we usually just don’t want to know about. They certainly aren’t books one forgets (and with my memory, that’s saying something).
In Pig Island, just published, Hayder tries the same formula in a different setting. She almost, but not quite, carries it off. A religious sect has bought a remote Scottish island previously owned by a pig farmer; the main character is a Liverpool journalist who has a history with the sect’s leader and goes over to investigate some "strange goings on". What seems like far too many pages of revolting descriptions of things to do with dead pigs (and worse) later, the action reverts to the mainland and a stalker plot, again with far too many pages devoted to it. The book is by far the strongest in the last third, as the true condition of the teenage girl ex-islander is gradually revealed. Hayder delivers her final trademark twist, but this is definitely a book calling out for Evil Editor. I hope "big author disease" is not looming.
For all its faults, the author digs into physical deformity in a relentless way, refusing to spare any detail. Even though there are plenty of unbelievable plot developments necessary to keep all the balls in the air (in particular the portrayal of the way the medical profession treats the patient), one does genuinely learn something. I think. Well, I learnt some medical facts that I didn’t know before I read this book, in any case. But definitely not a book to recommend to your granny.