Mo Hayder , a rising star of hardcore horror fiction, returns with a riveting and macabre novel that explores the evils committed in the name of faith. Journalist Joe Oakes is a born skeptic who makes his living exposing supernatural hoaxes. But his stay with a cult-like religious group on Scotland’s remote Pig Island might be enough to turn him into a believer. When the island erupts into bloodshed, Oakes must abandon everything he thought he knew to discover the secret behind exiled cult leader Malachi Dove, who lives alone behind a wall of electricity and toxic waste on the island’s far end. As the cataclysm of violence crashes down around him, Oakes is ultimately forced to confront the very nature of evil itself.
Mo Hayder has worked as a filmmaker, Tokyo nightclub hostess, and English language teacher. She teaches at Bath Spa University in England, and is the author of three other novels, including The Devil of Nanking.
- At the beginning of this novel Joe Oakes introduces himself. From the tone of his first-person narrative what do you understand about his character? What are the reasons for his being the "sole architect of the biggest self-fuck on record" (p. 4)?
- What is the dynamic set up in chapter four when Oakes and his cousin Finn go to New Mexico to track down Malachi Dove? How do the cousins differ? It is, after all, Finn's mother who was duped by Dove, and yet Joe is the one who remains grudgingly obsessed for twenty years.
- As early as page 36 Hayder starts to hints at the eerie and surprising finale. " ‘I asked myself difficult questions when I was at my lowest,' Dove tells a journalist on the Albuquerque Tribune, when he gets out of the hospital. ‘I asked the Lord if He would, in His grace, take me to be by His side. The answer was no, but what was revealed to me was that I will control my death. My death will be significant to the human race.' " By the end of this early chapter, Oakes has published an exposé under the pseudonym Joe Finn, and Dove is suing him. How does this shape the rest of their lives? How does this connect Joe and Malachi Dove to each other? Did you find them similar in any way? What could Joe Oakes/Finn have done differently to change the outcome, or was it already too late?
- When Joe visits Pig Island for the first time, he lets us know that he has had a great deal of experience as a reporter specializing in exposing supernatural hoaxes. He is determined to demonstrate that the half-human creature seen on a tourist video is a fake. Is he prepared for the mysteries of Pig Island? Are his close-minded attitudes toward the paranormal an asset or a detriment to his investigation?
- "I've got a trick, a way of nodding and keeping up the small-talk while another part of me detaches and floats free. I was smiling and nodding but inside I was off, unraveling what Blake had said: Malachi not dead. Was that why I still had my peace of mind? How had he just slipped off the radar like that? If he'd started up another ministry somewhere else I'd have known about it. I thought of all the places he could have gone, the connections he had. He was from London. Weird if he'd been living in the same town as me for the last twenty years" (p. 55). This is an example of how Oakes makes assumptions and second guesses. Find other examples of this in the book. How does his complacency work for him?
- What are Joe's impressions of the members of the Psychogenic Healing Ministries, especially Blake Fradenburg and the Garricks? Why are they all so resistant to sharing any information about their former leader, Malachi Dove?
- "In the end it was Sovereign who helped me" (p. 98). What do we learn about Joe, a skeptic, that makes us believe that he would trust Sovereign? Do you see a connection to later events?
- In a grisly scene Joe is nearly electrocuted. Later, he finds all the members of the PHM brutally and bloodily killed, and yet he pushes on with his investigation. What is he thinking? Is he a fearless investigative reporter or is he just an obsessive nutcase? Is there more here than meets the eye?
- Hayder makes use of disturbing graphic imagery of the gruesome sight of the slain PHM community members. How does Hayder employ language to effectively create a chilling effect? Do you think that these images are gratuitous? How do they serve the narrative?
- In Part 2, Joe Oakes's wife, Lexie, introduces herself in a long expository letter. Oakes has mentioned her, but we know very little about her, except that Joe doesn't love her anymore, and regrets having taken her to Scotland. Lexie seems superficial and manipulative, and yet Hayder has a reason for using her as a foil for Joe. Why is Lexie's point of view important? Is she totally unsympathetic? What does it show about Joe that he is involved in this relationship? Why does Lexie choose to stay at the cottage even after Joe goes back to the island?
- How do Lexie and Joe's initial reactions to Angeline Dove differ?
- "She looked surprised—as if to say, ‘Didn't you know this already?' ‘But I've always known about you,' she said, ‘I've known about you all my life. I've always known one day I'd meet you' " (p. 211). Angeline seems completely innocent, but are there hints of something else bubbling beneath her childlike demeanor? With the advantage of hindsight, what is Angeline actually saying?
- To create an unnerving environment of brutal horror what senses does Hayder's prose activate when Angeline takes Joe to the breeding shed? How does Joe react and what conclusions does he make?
- At the safe house, or "rape suite," Joe records Angeline's story. "If Finn had been there he'd have listened to Angeline spilling all the details and he'd've told me I was the meister. He'd say I'd finessed her, dolly-walked her into my trap. Funny that, I thought, as I sat, my chin resting on my hand, listening to her. Funny how I don't feel better about it" (p. 266). How is Angeline manipulating Joe—or is he manipulating himself?
- Neither of the two main characters, Joe or Lexie, is especially appealing, although they are both, like most people, a mixture of good and bad. Is there any character in the book that you found sympathetic? Why?
- "One of Danso's PCs drove us back to the rape suite. I didn't say a word. I sat in the passenger seat, elbows on my knees, smiling rigidly at the windscreen, my head pounding. I was fighting the sinking feeling that this had been waiting somewhere inside me for a lifetime, that it had always been destined to be dragged to the surface one day" (p. 308). As the police investigation proceeds, Joe, Lexie, and Angeline are confined together. Do you detect changes in Joe? How would you describe him now? How did he get to this point?
- Lexie is also somewhat altered. "I went woodenly to the bathroom and washed my hands, using hot water and lots of soap, my teeth chattering as if I was freezing. I knew I'd crossed a line. I knew I couldn't go back" (p. 350). In what ways has all the evil affected her? What changes do you see in her now? What brought her to this point?
- Even after Oakes returns to the rape suite to find Lexie gone, and notices certain things that don't make sense to him, he still does not suspect that anything might be different from what he assumes to be true. Considering this and all that has gone before, is his reaction to Lexie's death surprising? Afterward, back in London, as the months go by, why does he seem more and more tired and unmotivated? Simultaneously, Angeline is gaining energy and confidence. What forces are at work here? How are things devolving?
- In what ways was Malachi Dove's death memorable?
- "‘Joe.' She reached a hand up to my face. ‘Joe. You don't believe in evil. You don't believe in possession and you don't believe in evil. You said it yourself' " (p. 461). Revisit question one. Would you change your original response in light of the passage above?