THE HANGMAN'S SONG

Written by James Oswald

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.


THE HANGMAN'S SONG
Penguin
RRP: £7.99
Released: 27th February 2014
Pbk
The Hangman’s Song is third in a series featuring Anthony McLean: ageing D.I. who has inherited money, a large house, an Alfa Romeo and Emma: a traumatised woman convinced that she is the repository for lost souls. After a severe head injury she emerged from coma with amnesia, childlike behaviour and an obsession with esoteric books.

With the first sentence of this novel the reader is plunged into the action: witness to the mind of a madman exulting in a hanging. As similar deaths follow, all involving the same length of rope and identical knots, McLean suspects the presence of an accomplice at least, murder at most. He is one step behind the reader who is kept partially informed by occasional glimpses of a sadist roaming the streets of Edinburgh in search of further victims.

McLean’s workload is daunting. Obstructedby his superiors, peers and minions, while cogitating over hemp rope, the science of hanging and the results of relevant autopsies, with his sleep constantly disrupted by the haunted Emma, at the same time he is trying to trace the organisation and motivation behind a shipment of prostitutes from Leith Docks to an unknown destination.

Threads and motives, plots and violent deaths are drawn together ingeniously with the appearance of pimps and carers, a burly transvestite medium, a hypnotist, and a college that runs courses in parapsychology. Given the occult ambience and more than a whiff of witchcraft it is no surprise to find a familiar in the shape of Mrs McCutcheon’s cat, sole survivor of a fire, who senses susceptibility in McLean. This is confirmed when hypnotherapy sessions designed to unlock Emma’s frozen psyche floor the D.I. for the count.

Students of the paranormal will revel and although The Hangman’s Song is third in a triptych it may stand alone. The research is fantastical and Oswald’s imagination runs riot within its alien orbit. Amusing and entertaining: an intriguing read.
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