'Extraordinary' crime writer Mo Hayder dies of motor neurone disease

'Extraordinary' crime writer Mo Hayder dies of motor neurone disease

The industry has paid tribute to "brilliant storyteller" and crime author Clare Dunkel, also known as Mo Hayder, who has died from motor neurone disease.

“It is with much sadness that we announce that Clare Dunkel died yesterday morning,” her publisher Century announced on 28th July. “Clare was diagnosed with motor neurone disease on 22nd December. She fought valiantly, but the disease progressed at an alarming rate. She leaves behind a husband and daughter.” The 59-year-old lived in England's West Country and was a full-time writer.

The news comes four months after it was announced she was turning her attention from crime fiction to speculative thrillers with a switch from long-time publisher Bantam Press to Century. “Most recently, Clare had started a brand new series in a new genre, which she was very excited about,” Century said. “Writing as Theo Clare, The Book of Sand will be published posthumously by Century in early 2022. It is set in an alternate universe where nothing is quite as it seems.” 

Dunkel had said of the book: “It has taken me four years to finish it… I am so happy to be writing fiction set in an entirely imaginative universe of my own creation.” 

Writing as Mo Hayder, Dunkel published 10 novels with Transworld's Bantam Press over the past 21 years. Her fifth novel, Ritual, was nominated for the Barry Award for Best Crime 2009 and was voted Best Book of 2008 by Publishers WeeklyGone, her seventh novel, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and her novel Wolf was nominated for Best Novel in the 2015 Edgar Awards and is currently being adapted for the BBC. In 2011 she was awarded the Crime Writers' Association Dagger in the Library award for an outstanding body of work. 

Altogether she has sold 1.2 million books in the UK for £6.17m through Nielsen BookScan; her UK bestseller is Gone, which has sold 143,580 copies in paperback since 2010.

The author left school at 15 and later worked as a barmaid, security guard, filmmaker, hostess in a Tokyo club, educational administrator and teacher of English as a foreign language in Asia. She had an MA in film from the American University in Washington DC and an MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University.  

Her agent, Jane Gregory of David Higham Associates, said: “Yesterday we lost a brilliant writer and a wonderful, extraordinary, unique human being. Her books were astonishing and innovative. Clare was charming, entertaining, caustic and always great company. It was a privilege to work with her and an honour to have become her friend.” 

Selina Walker, publisher of Century and her long-term editor, said: “Everyone who knew Mo (as she was then called) was, I think, a little in love with her. I met her back in 2000 and worked with her for the next 10 years. She was the most amazing writer, never afraid to push the boundaries of the conventional crime novel or to challenge our perceptions. Most of all she was a brilliant storyteller, producing unputdownable book after book, all with flawed, utterly believable characters, of whom her series detective, Jack Caffery, was perhaps the most memorable.  

“She also had an extraordinary knack of making ordinary things, often in a domestic setting, strange and creepy. Her best scenes were always terrifying. She was the bravest writer I knew, but she was also fun and funny, someone you always wanted to spend time with. I am heartbroken that she’s been taken from us so soon.” 

Larry Finlay, m.d. of Transworld, which published the Mo Hayder books, said: “I have such fond and strong memories of Clare, going back to when we published her first Mo Hayder novel, Birdman, in 1999, and travelling the length and breadth of the UK meeting booksellers late into the night at Transworld road-shows. Clare was such a life force, and had an infectious and wicked sense of humour. Meeting her, one would never have guessed that she was the author of such viscerally powerful and dark thrillers. My heart goes out to her daughter Lotte and to her husband Bob.”