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Mo Hayder

Random House / Doubleday

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-385-49694-X

327 Pages ; $23.95

Date Reviewed: 02-20-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel

Mo Hayder Birdman



Mystery, Horror

02-28-02, 03-04-02, 04-29-02, 01-07-03, 01-27-03

If the dust jacket says "serial killer", don't count on a thriller. That's been the best defense of the overwhelmed reader since the success Sir Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Hannibal Lecter caused a population explosion of novels featuring diabolic and intelligent serial killers. In 'Birdman', Mo Hayder offers up a British spin on this now annoyingly familiar formula. When she's doing the forensics, the distressing details that the serial killer brings to his murder victims, it's a pretty much a kill-by-numbers novel. But the British atmosphere is thick enough to conceal some of the un-inventiveness at work here, and the tormented main character is more unpleasant to be around than the killer. In the end, Detective Jack Caffery saves the novel, not by finding the killer, but by being so damn morose and wrapped up in his own problems that he eclipses the inventive psycho and much of the plot with his own poor-me problems.

Yes, of course, you start out finding the body, then another, then three more. Five victims, not much more than drunk drivers take out on a bad night in Los Angeles. But after a few rather gory autopsies, this guy gets a nickname -- the Millennium murderer, how quaint! -- and a very special trademark that I won't tell you about as it might derail some of the tinny suspense Hayder gets going in 'Birdman'. Then it's off to the races, as Caffery and his crew try to find the murderer before another killing takes place.

From then on out it's a plot you've seen in innumerable TV movies and Thomas Harriss rip-offs. How many false endings there will be is a matter of turning the pages, and yes, you will turn the pages. But what makes them worth turning is Jack Caffery, the mopiest goddamn policeman you've been forced to hang out with since I-don't-know-when. All the problems he has with his past -- his brother was the victim of a killer who was never convicted -- and his present -- he and his significant other are having therapy-level problems -- make him the King Kong of unhappy cops. No, he doesn't climb a building with his S.O. in hand, but he does mope up a storm in prose that will sweep the reader away in a tiny, leaking lifeboat. If you don't immediately hope that Caffery gets killed, then you're going to enjoy this novel, in spite of its derivative nature, and probably enough to pick up the sequel, 'The Treatment', when it hits the shelves this week. I must admit that the British airs and the Harris heirs along with the grumpy Jack Caffrey will probably pull me in again.