It’s with a heavy heart that I share the news that novelist Clare Dunkel, who wrote under the pseudonyms Mo Hayder and Theo Clare, as died at the age of just 59, after battling Motor Neurone Disease.
Mo Hayder, as she was most commonly known, worked around the world, before her debut novel Birdman was published at the end of 1999. It was a shockingly graphic tale of the investigation into the ritualist murders of multiple women in London. The novel was revered as refreshingly intense and deeply thriller by both readers and critics alike.
In book she introduced her main protagonist, Jack Caffery, who appears in several of her novels. He’s a driven detective inspector who’s not phased by anything. He’s often called to the scene of gruesome crimes. Many of Hayder’s books involve despicable crimes and horrendous crime scenes, or difficult topics, such as paedophilia.
As well as the Jack Caffery novels, the author also wrote four standalone novels and put together the screenplay for a Dutch language version of her novel The Treatment. A versatile writer and supportive member of the writing community, Hayder contributed a great deal to the world of literature and thriller writing. Her work inspired many other dark crime fiction writers, and helped to define the modern thriller market.
Despite having left school at just 15 years old to become a waitress, then working around the world, including in Tokyo, a city which she eventually named a novel after, Hayder later returned to the world of education and earned herself two Master’s degrees; one in film making from the American University in Washington DC and the other in creative writing from Bath Spa University. She also had jobs as a waitress, security guard and international English teacher before she started writing professionally and making a name for herself in the thriller writing community.
These jobs and degrees helped her to hone her writing skills, enrich her already extensive life experiences and get the confidence she needed to start writing professionally. Her first book was beloved by readers and critics alike, and all of her subsequent works have achieved similar success.
Her work is most notable for being gripping and gruesome, without being overly gory. Hayder got the balance just right, making her work appealing to a wide variety of readers. The author created amazing characters who did crazy and often terrible things. Every book was a roller coaster of emotions, and the author crafted beautiful narratives that kept readers hooked from start to well after they were finished reading.
As well as being international bestsellers, many of her novels also won accolades, including the coveted CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award. Her contribution was noted through the winning of these awards and by many reviewers who regularly pointed out the gripping nature of her work. Her work is often seen as similar to the very best Scandinavian crime fiction, as it uses many of the same tropes and similar plot devices to grip the reader and really shock them to the core.
Although Hayder’s bibliography isn’t exceptionally extensive under any name, she has made a lasting impact on the crime fiction and thriller genres thanks to her imagination and amazing skill with words. She helped to pave the way for many other writers to incorporate dark themes into their work and highlight the gruesome side of human nature.
Drawing on her extensive and varied life experiences as well as the people she knew and loved, Hayder created rich narratives and unique plots that would haunt readers long after they put her books down. Her second husband, to whom my thoughts go out at this difficult time, was a retired policeman, and presumably she drew on his past experiences, as well as her own, when writing her novels.
Shortly before her unfortunate demise, Hayder completed a new novel, The Book Of Sand, which was written under her second pseudonym, Theo Clare. The book is set to be released posthumously next year.
Ultimately, this latest novel will be an exciting addition to Hayder’s legacy of writing gripping, tense thrillers that show the very worst that humanity has to offer. It’s such a colossal shame that the thriller industry has lost such a celebrated writer, but Hayder’s work will live on and be loved by many generations to come. She’ll always be known as a master of suspense and turning difficult topics into engaging narratives. She died too soon but her work remains and will be a lasting reminder of her commitment and unique creative mind. My thoughts are with her family and loved ones, and I can only hope that her success in her profession brings them some small comfort as they grieve for their loss. It’s always a shame to lose a talented individual so soon, but she made an impression on millions of readers, as well as those lucky enough to know her and spend time with her in person.