Friday, November 9, 2012

Book Review - Hanging Hill

Hanging Hill – Mo Hayder


Mo Hayder’s standalone novels have often received mixed reviews. The majority loved “Tokyo,” whilst “Pig Island” was loved by some and derided be others. Personally, I loved both and admire the fact that Mo is prepared to try different styles and genres. Mo has always been a consistently good author for me and as “Hanging Hill” seems to fall somewhere in between her Jack Caffrey series and her standalones in terms of style I was looking forward to reading it.

The Blurb:

What if you found yourself divorced and penniless? With no skills and a teenage daughter to support? What if the only way to survive was to do things you never thought possible?

These are questions Sally has never really thought about before. Married to a successful businessman, she's always been a bit of a dreamer. Until now.

Her sister Zoe is her polar opposite. A detective inspector working out of Bath Central, she loves her job, and oozes self-confidence. No one would guess that she hides a crippling secret that dates back twenty years, and which - if exposed - may destroy her.

Then Sally's daughter gets into difficulties, and Sally finds she needs cash - lots of it - fast. With no one to help her, she is forced into a criminal world of extreme pornography and illegal drugs; a world in which teenage girls can go missing.

Two sisters intent on survival. Until one does something so terrifying that there's no way back . . .

“Hanging Hill” is told from the point of view of two sisters who no longer speak to each other and live very different lives. At first glance Zoe is your stereotypical female cop with a chip on her shoulder and something to prove. Mo Hayder though has always been one to go further than your average stereotype and does so again here.

Zoe is vulnerable but is also a very able cop. Her love live is tumultuous and despite the belief that she is happy being a lone wolf, she really is the opposite, needing company and support. She is a strong belief in evidence based police worker and so when a psychiatrist is brought into the investigation of a murder she is immediately opposed to the idea. This makes for a good dynamic as Zoe has something to be at odds with her colleagues about other than the typical “I am a woman but that shouldn’t impact on me doing my job and being treated equal.” The conflict is well portrayed as Mo successfully strikes the balance of Zoe the crusader and Zoe the deranged.

Sally on the other hand could not be more different. She is weak in comparison. Divorced and struggling for money she fails to see some of the most obvious things going on in her daughter’s life. She also has the annoying quality so often seen in people of wishing to do the honourable thing by getting herself out of the mess she created and in doing so not accepting help when she really should.

The secondary characters are all well depicted and so the ingredients are there to support a decent plot which Mo delivers with her usual no nonsense style that does not hold back on brutality.

As with most books in the crime genre, the investigation into the murder is compelling as clues are rifled though and witnesses are examined. What makes “Hanging Hill” stand out is the unexpected events that occur along the way. Sally’s inclusion in the plot means that Mo has the freedom to tell a far more interesting tale which is cleverly linked to the main plot.

The pace of the novel is just right, with events taking a nice turn mid way through the novel, which creates the drama towards the end. Mo is one of the best authors at creating tension when the protagonist is hiding from the evil killer. I read Tokyo years ago and yet I still remember one of the scenes from that book vividly. She achieves the same feat here in another scene.

Whilst good, the climax of the novel does feel as everything comes together and falls into place a little to nicely in the way the characters all converge. What is great though, is the way things are wrapped up. Sometimes it is refreshing when things occur beyond the protagonist’s control. The ending is harrowing – just how I like my novels to be and once again Mo Hayder has hit the mark for me.

My rating: 8.6