Monday, March 3, 2014

Pig IslandPig Island by Mo Hayder
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Mo Hayder's 2006 book "Pig Island" is a hybrid (a 'biforme', using the author's own word): a horror story morphing into a thriller. The beginning third of the book is a competently written horror story, and when the reader becomes comfortable with the set-up and begins imagining various possible continuations, the author veers off in a totally unexpected (at least for me) and quite creepy direction. The switch was so abrupt that it made me smile; I like it a lot when an author shows me "who's the boss".

Joe Oakes is an accomplished hoax chaser and debunker. Some tourists capture a video of a strange creature on the coast of an island (the aptly named Pig Island) off the west coast of Scotland. The creature (a biforme!) looks partly human but there is something dangling from the base of its spine, like a fleshy tail. What complicates Joe's task of explaining the sighting is the fact that Pig Island is owned and occupied by Psychogenic Healing Ministries, a secretive religious sect, with which Joe has some history (twenty years ago he was close to exposing the founder of the sect, Malachi Dove, as a charlatan during a public healing session). However, this is only the set-up, and we are soon facing quite a different situation, with rather unexpected characters playing prominent roles.

The description of a healing session conducted by Malachi Dove in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is hilarious, particularly the bit that involves bowel movement. Some fragments later in the book are definitely not for the faint-hearted, being quite graphic, intense, and explicit. Still, considering that the purpose of a horror story is to horrify the reader, one should not complain.

Alas, what is a promisingly offbeat novel by its midpoint, turns into a boringly standard thriller at the point of final denouement, with at least one plot twist too many. Unlike Ms. Hayder's best work, "The Devil of Nanking", this book does not have much in common with literature. As an entertainment piece, it is barely satisfactory, with the abrupt switch of the plot direction and the overall disgusting creepiness being the best features.

Two stars.

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