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Hayder, Mo - 'Hanging Hill'
Hardback: 432 pages (Apr. 2011) Publisher: Bantam Press ISBN: 0593063835

Hanging Hill is the site of the great Landsdown battle between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians, about 400 years ago. It is close to Bath in South Gloucestershire, and close to where Mo Hayder herself lives. The book opens with a funeral of someone unnamed. Two sisters Zoe and Sally Benedict are sitting outside the church, thinking back to the events leading up to the funeral starting with the murder of Lorne Wood. At that point, Sally had recently divorced her husband Julian and was newly living in a run down cottage with her 15 year old daughter Millie. Her ex-husband was paying the school fees, but not providing much more in the way of extra money. For the first time, Sally was forced to try to earn her own living and sort her own money problems out, and with her lack of qualifications, she attempted to do so by taking on a series of cleaning jobs.

One of Sally's cleaning jobs was cleaning for David Goldrab, a man of dubious occupation, possibly involving pornography, but very well off and who lived in a very large house in an exclusive area of Bath. The cleaning job was organised through an agency, and Sally was part of a team, with two Eastern European girls, from the same agency. But the Sunday that Lorne went missing, David offered her a part-time job to look after the house on her own, and sort out any problems and issues with it, for more money, and in her impoverished circumstances, she found it hard to resist. But Sally's new boyfriend Steve, who apparently works in 'corporate espionage', was worried about her new job, and told Sally that Goldrab was one of the people he was investigating for a client, and that he was a very nasty man.

The murdered girl, Lorne Wood, was a pupil at the same school as Millie, and was once a good friend of hers. Shortly after she was reported missing, Lorne was found close to the canal path with a tennis ball forced into her mouth (death from suffocation), and lipstick marks on her body that read 'all like her' and 'that say no-one', prompting worries that this could be the start of a serial murder.

Sally's sister Zoe is a single, career woman, a detective inspector, based in Bath. She is put on the case to discover what happened to Millie. She and Sally see each other very rarely, and this seems to stem from an event that occurred fairly early in their childhood, and resulted in their despatch to separate boarding schools. Sally is the younger sister, 'fluffy', blonde, and pretty, whereas Zoe is the clever, strong type, and this seems to have sparked off some jealousy between the two.

Zoe is in a relationship with one of her colleagues Ben, but the relationship appears to be cooling off, possibly because Ben thinks Zoe is too independent. This relationship worsens when a forensic psychiatrist, Debbie, is co-opted onto the murder team. Debbie is so attractive that the various police colleagues, including Ben, tend to believe every word she says without questioning it, except for Zoe, who is highly suspicious of her psychoanalytical perspective, and would prefer to investigate the crime in a more traditional way.

And of course, it is Zoe's traditional policing approach that pays off in the end. She finds out that Lorne was desperate to be a model. So desperate that she may have been tempted to try glamour modelling. Is there a connection to David Goldrab? Did she meet her death as a result of her obsession with modelling, or is there a more mundane reason? Ostensibly, the two stories of the two sisters, Sally and her job with Goldrab, and Zoe's investigation of Lorne's death are apparently unconnected. But gradually the threads weave the two stories together, and connections begin to appear, but not necessarily in the places that are the most obvious.

This is an enjoyable book. Hayder has dispensed with her usual set of characters from earlier novels, and come up with a much more believable and interesting set. The main characters are carefully drawn, and while Zoe is a strong, independent woman, with a few neuroses underneath, she is not too neurotic and the more likeable for it. The story itself is a good one, and although it sometimes has a strong element of farce, one can just about believe people could find themselves in the positions that they end up in at some points in the book. Hayder's best book so far I think and I hope that Zoe turns up in future books.

Read another review of HANGING HILL.

Michelle Peckham, England
April 2011

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 24/06/2012 09:34