Birdman

Mo Hayder, Bantam, 1999

Several warped individuals recommended this psychological thriller as being set in Greenwich, but I confess I had prevaricated on the grounds that “I couldn’t find it in the local bookshop” ( a feeble excuse, I know, but I am a sensitive soul) until The Phantom Webmaster found it in a booksale and I no longer had any excuse not to read it.

So. At last. A true Greenwich book – set in Greenwich, namechecking Greenwich all over the shop and with Greenwich-ian characters. A local book, then, for local people. What does it say about us that it’s a horror story about a sexual-sadist serial killer…?

It’s a fast read – pacy and a real page turner. I don’t normally read this genre so I’m not sure whether it’s a ‘good’ example of its kind, but I couldn’t put the thing down, revulsed as I was. With every page I was thinking “Yeuch!” and “What’s next?” in equal quantities.

Greenwich around the millennium is very finely portrayed – a largely downmarket world that though only seven years old is already part of history. The bodies initially bowl up around the aggregates yards near the building work for the millennium dome; the seedy strip joint that the low-life of Greenwich hang out in is in Trafalgar Road (maybe this book should be submitted as evidence of “What Could Happen” if the lap-dancing club is allowed to open…) It’s rather (and perhaps deliberately) confusingly called the Dog & Bell (the only one I know is in Deptford, but I’m assuming the real one was somewhere like The Penny Black, the William IV or The Crown.)

The nasty hospital that is the centre for grizzly goings-on is a thinly-disguised Greenwich District Hospital – no wonder it closed a couple of years after this book came out if that’s the kind of thing that went on ;-)

And so on and on. Several streets are named, giving a good feel for the area – Crooms Hill must be one of the most namechecked roads in Greenwich – if there’s anywhere going to be named in any book, it’s that one. Other names are disguised (I was sad enough to look them up on the A-Z.)

Is this a ‘good’ book? Well, it’s not ‘literary fiction’ in its purest form – but as a shocker it’s completely gripping – and I would argue that that in itself makes it “a good book.” Any novel that can transport its reader, scare the hell out of them and make them turn the page fits the bill as far as I’m concerned. I would be proud to have written it.

I understand there’s a film in the offing. When I looked it up it was “in pre-production” which in movie-speak generally means “Don’t hold your breath.” Hopefully Mo Hayder will have received a nice fat “option” cheque but I lost interest when I read further down and discovered that this wouldn’t be a first for Greenwich – a Greenwich-set flick actually filmed in Greenwich – but would be transported wholesale to Los Angeles. If I’m honest there isn’t any plot reason why this story should be set in Greenwich – it could fit anywhere – it just seems a shame that American film makers don’t seem to be able to see beyond their own back yard (though I guess that on this particular morning they probably can’t actually see their own back yards.)

Birdman comes highly recommended by this phantom – if you don’t mind a spot of gore and don’t live in Crooms Hill….


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