Tag Archives: crime

Reading With Fakename: Poppet

This is a book by Mo Hayder, whose work is generally, I believe, classified as “horror”, but could also fall into the milder category of “mystery” or “crime”. She has won the Edgar Award.
Horror isn’t a category that attracts me, although in my twenties, my friends and I were nuts about Stephen King, and read every book of his as soon as it came out. In fact, he couldn’t write fast enough for us. Kind of a Harry Potter phenomenon. But, I got bored with it eventually.
A few years ago I picked up Mo Hayder’s book Pig Island during one of my random cruisings of the “recently released” shelves at the library. I was so literally horrified by this book that I swore I would never read another of Hayder’s books. But…it was well-written and suspenseful. And original.
I’m often tempted by good book covers. In the case of Poppet, it shows a picture of what appears to be a doll. It has a very smooth face that looks somewhere between the face of a baby and the face of a cat. Its “hands” also look somewhere between the hands of a baby and the paws of a cat. It’s dressed in something lacy. But its very large, wide-set, blue eyes are unmistakably human. There is something very creepy about it.
The book takes place mostly in Beechway High Secure Unit in Bristol, England. This is a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane and those who are so in danger of harming themselves they cannot live in the outside world. Recently there have been two deaths and an episode of self-mutilation (a resident named Moses dug his eye out with a spoon in the dining room). The residents attribute all these events to a creature they call The Maude.
In its past, Beechway was a workhouse for the poor. As legend has it, Maude was an actual employee of the workhouse, a nun and dwarf who would sit on residents’ chests as punishment for perceived infractions of right thinking, mostly thoughts involving lust. Maude’s grave is alleged to be somewhere on the grounds, so this is apparently her ghost creating all the mayhem.
There are many, many characters, who are revealed somewhat slowly. But the first person we’re introduced to in any detail is AJ.
AJ is a nurse who has only recently been promoted to supervisor. AJ is a gentle soul, who lives with his Aunt Patience and his little dog Stewart (Stewie). But AJ begins to suspect there is more to what’s happening than some supernatural intervention by this mass delusion called The Maude. He involves the police.
If you’re like me, in the beginning you’re thinking, Oh no, not another one of those. Ho hum. A murder in an insane asylum. But that would be to diminish Hayder’s skills. I wonder if she didn’t deliberately choose this kind of setting to take you down an entirely different and original path. It was masterful.
If you read classic mysteries, like Agatha Christie, you will find yourself slapping your forehead for not figuring out who committed the crime. However, if you look back, you’ll find that many clues were omitted.
In this book, all the clues are there. In fact, I suspected I knew “who” very early on, and I turned out to be right. But I wasn’t 100% certain, and I didn’t know “how” or “why”. Just a great book. Now that I’m over my aversion after reading Pig Island, I’ll read more of Mo Hayder.