Pig Islandby Mo Hayder
“Mo Hayder, who writes dark, perfect thrillers . . . now spins a shivery tale about a cult on the west coast of Scotland, where the weather nourishes bleak menace.” —Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News
“Mo Hayder, who writes dark, perfect thrillers . . . now spins a shivery tale about a cult on the west coast of Scotland, where the weather nourishes bleak menace.” —Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News
From Edgar Award winner and internationally bestselling author Mo Hayder, Pig Island is a riveting, disturbing thriller of religious fanatics, hoax debunkers, and the dark side of belief. Journalist Joe Oakes makes a living exposing supernatural hoaxes, but when he visits a secretive religious cult on a remote Scottish island, everything he thought he knew is overturned. While investigating a strange apparition caught briefly on film wandering the lonely beaches of Pig Island, so deformed it can hardly be human, Oakes crosses a border of electrical fencing, toxin-filled oil drums, and pigs’ skulls to infiltrate the territory of the group’s isolated founder, Malachi Dove. The violent consequences of Oakes’s transgression are so catastrophic that it forces him to question the nature of evil and to face a terrible reality: Was Dove responsible for one of the bloodiest crimes Scotland has seen in years? And, worse, have his actions set into motion a killing machine that will stop at nothing?
“A piercing look at the long and lingering tentacles of war . . . Dunmore writes with elegant authority.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Though gruesome enough to satisfy even the most hardcore horror fan, this rigorously imagined novel is also full of apt (if bleak) detail and graced with a perfect plot twist at the end. Hayder (The Devil of Nanking) offers both a riveting story and a nuanced, distinctly modern look at secrecy and publicity, belief and skepticism, normal and taboo, (in)sight and blindness.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Disturbing . . . Hayder has a gift for the hard-boiled language necessary to put her horror plot over; her words crunch satisfyingly in [Joe] Oakes’s mouth.” —Mikael Wood, Time Out New York
“Hayder proves to be a maestro of the sinister . . . Pig Island is never less than intriguing and . . . thrillingly horrific.” —Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News
“The elaborate shock effects that define Hayder’s savage style ultimately serve their purpose in a novel that taps into the current fascination with all things supernatural and questions our assumptions about a number of subjects, from faith healing to cultish religious groups and society’s definition of evil.” —Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
“Pig Island is another astonishing mutation of the crime thriller. . . . The novel masterfully exposes not only the horror but also the human frailty at the story’s core.” —Anna Mundow, The Boston Globe
“Not afraid of the stench of blood. In fact, it’s an abattoir. . . . Prepare to sit up all night in a well-lit room, because this British grandmaster of shock-suspense is back at it—this time asking her readers to question reality in an entirely new and thoroughly unnerving way.” —Kel Munger, Sacramento News and Review
“A convincing thriller that deftly explores the degree to which skepticism can become its own sort of blind faith.” —Octavian
“Mo Hayder has a profound ability to shock and surprise her readers, and Pig Island surpasses anything she has written before. She’s the bravest writer I know.” —Karin Slaughter, author of Triptych and Faithless
“So fast-paced and horrifying that I had to sit up until the early hours to finish it.” —The Daily Telegraph
“Hayder offers both a riveting story and a nuanced, distinctly modern look at secrecy and publicity, belief and skepticism, normal and taboo, (in)sight and blindness.” —Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette
“Briskly paced and fluid . . . The twist comes like a hammer blow right at the end, clever and unexpected.” —The Times (London)
“One of our most adventurous, unpredictable and ambitious writers.” —Peter Guttridge, The Observer (London)
Praise for The Devil of Nanking:
“It is seldom one has to read a novel with a fist stuffed in one’s mouth to contain the gasps of horror.” —Daily Express
“Wrenching . . . A beautifully controlled thriller.” —Douglas Wolk, The New York Times Book Review
“Mo Hayder knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat right up until the moment she pushes you off screaming.” —Peter Mergendahl, Rocky Mountain News
“A major talent that transcends thriller writing.” —Time Out (London)
Finalist for the 2008 Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel
The alarms first went off in my head when the landlord and the lobsterman showed me what had been washed up on the beach. I took one look at the waves breaking and knew right then that cracking the Pig Island hoax wasn’t going to be the straightforward bit of puff I’d expected. I didn’t say anything much for a few minutes, just stood there, probably scratching the back of my neck and staring, because something like that . . . well, it’s going to get you thinking, right? However much of a big guy you think you are, however much you reckon you’ve seen in your life and however lairy you are about the mad stories that go round, looking down at something like that splashing around your shoes, it’s going to make you scratch a bit. Why didn’t I listen to those alarm bells, turn right round and walk away from the whole thing there and then? Don’t. Just don’t. I stopped asking myself that question a long time ago.
That summer what they called the “Devil of Pig Island” video had already been around for a couple of years. Disturbing thing, it was. Genius hoax. And trust me, I know hoaxes. It had been shot on a sunny morning by a tourist out on a boozy sightseeing tour of the Slate Islands, and when it hit the public the whole country went off on one, whispering about devil worship and general bad shit happening on the remote island off the coast of west Scotland. The story might have run and run, but the secretive religious group that lived on the island, the Psychogenic Healing Ministries, wouldn’t give interviews to the press or respond to the accusations, and with nothing to fuel it the story died. Until late August last year when, after two years of nothing, the sect decided to break the silence. They cherry-picked one journalist to stay with them on the island for a week to see how the community lived and to “discuss the widespread accusations of Satanic ritual.” And that canny old git of a journalist? Meet me. Joe Oakes. Oakesy to my mates. Sole architect of the biggest self-fuck on record.
“Seen the old video, have you?” said the lobsterman. It was the first time we’d met and I knew he didn’t like me. There were only four of us in the pub that night: me, the landlord, his dog and this moody old shite. He sat in the corner huddled up against the wood panelling, puffing away at his rollies, shaking his head when I started asking about Pig Island. “Is that why you’re here? Fancy yourself a devil-wrangler?”
“Fancy myself a journalist.”
“A journalist no less!”
He laughed, and looked up at the landlord. “Did ye hear that? Fancies himself a journalist!”
The place had that leery feel you sometimes get in these struggling local holes—like any minute a fight’s going to kick off behind one of the fruit machines even though the place is half empty. There were two alehouses in the community—the tourist one, with its picture window overlooking the marina, and this one for the locals, up a cliff path in the soggy trees. Stained plaster walls, stinking carpets and dingy, sea-dulled windows that stared out to where Pig Island lay, silent and dark almost two miles offshore.
“They’ll not let you on the island,” said the landlord, as he wiped down the bar. “You know that, don’t you? There’s not been a journalist on that island in years. They’re as mad as kettles out on Pig Island—won’t let a soul on the island, much less a journalist.”
“And if they did let you on,” said the lobsterman, “God, but there’s not a soul in Craignish will take you out there. No, you won’t catch any of us gaun out to auld Pig Island.” He squinted through the smoke out of the window to where the island lay, just a dark shape against the gathering gloom. His white beard was nicotine-stained, like he must’ve been drooling in it for years. “No. Not me. I’d sooner go through the old hag’s whirlpool, pure fatal or not, than go round Pig Island and come face to face with auld Nick.”
One thing I’ve learned after eighteen years in this trade is there’s always someone who gains from supernatural phenomena. If it isn’t money or revenge it’s just good old-fashioned attention. I’d already been to Bolton to interview the tourist who’d shot the video. He had nothing to do with the hoax: poor beer-bloated sod couldn’t see past the next Saturday-afternoon league tables, let alone set up something like that. So who was gaining from the Pig Island film?
“They own the island, don’t they?” I said, twisting my pint of Newkie Brown round and round in the circular beer stain, looking at it thoughtfully. “The Psychogenic Healing Ministries. I read that somewhere—they bought it in the eighties.”
“Bought it or stole it, depending on your position.”
“Was an awful fool, the owner.” The landlord leaned on the bar with both elbows. “An awful fool. The pig farm goes belly up and what does he do? Lets all the farmers in Argyll dump their dodgy chemicals out there. Ended up a death pit, the place—pigs all over the island, old mine shafts, chemicals. In the end he has to give it all away. Ten thousand pounds! They could have stole it from him, it’d be more honest.”
“You won’t like that,” I said, in a level, casual voice. “People coming from the south and buying up all the property round here.”
The lobsterman sniffed. “Doesn’t bother us. What we don’t tolerate is when they buy a place, then lock themselves away and get up to all their queer rituals. That’s when it bothers us—them hunkering down out there, consorting with the devil, doing nothing but eating babies and giving each other a rare auld peltin’ whenever they’ve a mind to.”
“Aye,” said the landlord. “And then there’s the smell.”
I looked at the landlord. I wanted to smile. “The smell? From the island?”
“Ah!” he said, throwing the tea towel over his shoulder. “The smell.” He fished under the bar for a giant bag of crisps and opened it, shovelling a fistful into his mouth. “Do you know what they say? What they say is the signature smell of the devil? The smell of the devil is the smell of shite—that’s what it is. Now, you go to anyone out there—” He jabbed a crisp-covered finger at the window. Crumbs confettied on to his T-shirt.”—out on Jura or in Arduaine, and they’ll all tell you the same thing. The smell of shite comes off Pig Island. There’s no better proof of their rituals than that.”
I studied him thoughtfully. Then I turned and looked across the dark sea. The moon was out and a wind had come up and was whipping branches against the windowpane. Beyond our reflections, beyond the image of the landlord standing under the lighted optics, I could see an absence—a dark space against the night sky. Pig Island.
“They piss you off,” I said, trying to picture the thirty-odd people who lived out there. “They do their fair bit to piss you all off.”
“You’re right about that,” said the landlord. He came to the table and sat down, setting the crisps in front of him. “Do their fair bit to piss us all off. They’re not well liked—not since they fenced off that nice bit o’ beach on the south-east of the island and stopped the young folk from Arduaine going out with their boats. They’d only be wanting a wee game of footy or shinty in the sand, the weans, Godsake, no need to be so stern about it, is my opinion.”
“Not your perfect neighbours.”
“No,” he said. “They’re not.”
“Where I come from, you behave like that you’re asking for a hiding.”
“So you’re starting to see my point.”
“If it was me I’d be trying to think of how to make their lives difficult.”
“We’ve been tempted!” The landlord laughed. He licked his fingers carefully, then put them to his eyes, like tears of mirth had gathered there. “I don’t mind telling you. Been tempted. Put some paraffin in their bottles of bevvy, maybe.”
“You know, if it was me, I’d—I’d—I don’t know.” I shook my head and looked at the ceiling, like I was searching for inspiration. “I’d probably try and set up some kind of . . . dodgy rumour. Yeah.” I nodded. “I’d set up a hoax—spread a couple of rumours around.”
The landlord stopped laughing and rubbed his nose. “Are you saying we’re making it all up?”
“Aye. Takin’ the piss, are ye?” The lobsterman sat forward, suddenly flushed. “You takin’ the piss? Is that what your message to us is?”
“I’m just saying,” I met his eyes seriously, looking from him to the landlord and back, “it’s got a smell about it, hasn’t it? I mean, devil-worshippers? Satan walking the beaches of Pig Island?”
The colour in the lobsterman’s face paled very slightly. He crushed the rollie in the ashtray and stood, drawing himself up to his full height. He took a few deep, fighting breaths, and looked unsteadily down at me. “Laddie, tell me. Are you a man who is easily shocked? You’re a big man, but I reckon you’re one who’d shock easy. What do ye think?” he said to the landlord. “Is he? Is he a man who’d go in a funk if he saw something peculiar? Because that’s how it looks from where I stand.”
“Why?” I said, putting the glass down slowly. “Why? What are you going to show me?”
“If you’re so clever you don’t believe what we’re saying, then come with me. We’ll see what kind of a hoax is gaun on.”
Pig Island, or as it’s called in Gaelic Cuagach Eilean, lies in the small cup of sea at the edge of the Firth of Lorn, caught like a precious stone in a setting between Luing, Jura and Craignish Peninsula—like it’s been placed to block the entry to the Sound of Jura. It’s a weird shape: like a peanut from above, covered in grassland and dense trees, a wide rocky gorge running down the middle. Once, before the pig farm and the chemical dumping, there’d been a slate mine operating in the south of the island, with a community of miners and a regular ferry. But by the time I got there Pig Island was almost totally cut off. Once a week the Psychogenic Healing Ministries sent a small boat to collect supplies. It was their only contact with the world.
I knew a bit about that part of Scotland—wrote bits and pieces about it from time to time. But my bread and butter was debunking work. One of the things that comes as birthright to a Scouser is knowing the stripe of bullshit when you see it and I’m a natural sceptic, a full-blown non-believer: a Scully, a James Randi, an out-and-out hoax-buster. I’ve flown round the world chasing zombies and chupacabras, Filipino faith-healers and beasts in Bodmin; I’ve used glass vials to collect dripping milk from the breasts of Mexican virgin statues—and in that time I’ve worked up a hard skin. But even I had to admit there was something odd-looking about the Psychogenic Healing Ministries’ island. If you were going to believe in devil-worship you’d picture it happening somewhere remote and sea-wreathed like Pig Island. That night, as we jolted and bumped along a dark path that led to the end of the peninsula, I stared out of the window at its dark, desolate shape and for a moment or two there I had to tell myself not to be an old tart about it.
The landlord had crammed me into the back seat of the lobsterman’s beat-up rust-bucket of a car. We left the dog in the pub: “Because he’s a mad rocket when he comes out here,” said the landlord, as the car pulled off the road on to a thin, muddy beach. “Makes him crazy and I’m not putting him in a paddy just because you won’t take my word for something.”
We got out of the car and I paused. I hadn’t been out on the lash or anything, but I’d sunk a fair old few in the pub and it felt good for a moment to fill my lungs with the night air. The beach was silent, and there was already a breath of autumn in the air. It was gone eleven but Craignish was so far north the sky was still edged with blue. You’d almost think that if you stood on tiptoe and squinted you’d see the land of the midnight sun peeping at you from over the horizon, maybe a reindeer or a polar bear on a giant mint.
“See the pipe?” The lobsterman walked away to the south, totally steady in spite of the whisky, his old shoes leaving dull prints in the mud, his moon-shadow long beside him. “The wee stank over there?” He was pointing to the long, low shape of a sewage pipe straddling the beach ahead. “You get the conditions right—a nice westerly, an ebb and a spring tide—then everything from out at Pig Island gets washed up, not in the loch or even on Luing, where you’d expect it, but here, on this side of the peninsula. Most of it gets caught on the other side of that pipe.”
The landlord hung back, giving me a dubious look. His face was a little pinched seeming in the moonlight. He turned up his collar like it was suddenly dead cold out there. “Sure you’re ready for this?”
“Yeah. Why not?”
“It’s not for the faint-hearted, what’s caught up under that pipe.”
“I’m not faint-hearted,” I said, looking down the beach at the lobsterman. “I’ve seen everything there is to see.”
We walked for a while in silence, only the sound of the waves breaking on the beach, and the tinkle of a halyard on a boat moored somewhere out in the sea. The smell hit me first. Even before I saw the lobsterman hesitate at the pipe, looking down on the other side, before I saw him shaking his head and leaning over to spit out something in the sand, I knew it was going to be one of those stomach-turners. One of those times I’d regret the last pint. I took a breath and swallowed, tapping my pockets as I got nearer, hoping I’d find a stray bit of chewy or something to take the taste away.
“Worse is it?” said the landlord, approaching the lobsterman. “Got worse?”
“Aye—there’s more. More than there was last week.”
I held my T-shirt up to my nose and peered down on the other side of the pipe. Dark shapes bobbed and buffeted in a yellowish foam. Meat. Decaying chunks of flesh—impossible to tell in the slime where one piece ended and the next began. The breaking waves forced them into the crevice under the pipe, tangled them in ribbons of tasselweed. Decomposition gas fizzed from under the raised flaps of skin, sending bubbles to the surface.
“What the fuck’s this?”
“Pig meat,” said the lobsterman. “Dead pigs. Killt in one of them rituals on Pig Island and been washed off the island.”
“Police have seen it,” the landlord said, “and they’ve not cared to do anything about it—can’t prove where it’s coming from and, anyway, a few dead pigs aren’t hurting anyone, is their manner of thinking.”
“Dead pigs?” I looked up at the mouth of the Firth. The moon picked out the silvery tips of waves as far as the eye could see—to where Pig Island peeped round the end of Luing, silent and hunched, like a dozing beast. “All of this is dead pigs?”
“Aye. That’s what they say.” The landlord puffed out a series of short, dry laughs—like the world never ceased to amaze him. “That’s what the police say—everything here is just pig meat. But you know what I think?”
“What do you think?”
“I think that when it comes to the lovers of Satan you can never be too sure.”
by Susan Avery
This is a novel concerned with the nature of evil in human relationships. It is also a mystery that makes sudden turns and thus it is important to read it attentively. In the course of your reading you will find yourself questioning what you have already assumed. Be careful.
1. 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. 10)?
2. What is the dynamic that is set up in chapter four when Oaksey 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.
3. As early as p. 34 Hayder starts to give hints to 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 expose 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?
4. 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?
5. “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. 48). This is an example of how Oakes makes assumptions and tries to second guess everything. Find other examples of this in the book. How does his complacency work for him?
6. 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?
7. “In the end it was Sovereign who helped me” (p. 80). What do we learn about Joe, the skeptic that makes him trust Sovereign? Do you see a connection to later events?
8. 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?
9. 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?
10. In Part 2, Joe Oake’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 “fancy” 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?
11. How do Lexie and Joe’s initial reactions to Angeline Dove differ?
12. “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. 164). Angeline seems completely innocent, but are there hints of something else bubbling beneath her childlike demeanor? In retrospect, how do you think Joe missed these? With the advantage of hindsight, what is Angeline actually saying?
13. 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?
14. 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. 206). Is Angeline manipulating Joe, or is he manipulating himself?
15. 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?
16. “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. 236). 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?
17. 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. 268). In what ways has all the evil affected her? What changes do you see in her now? What brought her to this point?
18. Even after Oaksey 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 than his assumptions. 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 in energy and confidence. What forces are at work here? How are things devolving?
19. As the shocking denouement quickly moves forward, how was Malachi Dove’s death—”memorable”?
20. “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. 351). Now answer the last part of question # 1 once more.
Suggestions for further reading:
James Randi: Psychic Investigator by James Randi; Freaks: We Who Are Not as Others by Daniel P. Mannix; Uri Geller by Jonathan Margolis; Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body by Armand Marie Leroi; Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the People’s Temple by Deborah Layton