Hayder, Mo - 'Hanging Hill'
A teenage girl is found brutally murdered on her way home from school. The cryptic message 'all like her' is written on her body. Her friends are shocked and upset, but they refuse to reveal anything about her last movements. Who are they protecting - and what do they know? Headstrong Detective Inspector Zoe Benedict knows exactly why she wants this case, but her own dark past, if exposed, may jeopardise the search for justice, and destroy her in the process.
So reads the publicity sheet, but really it just needed to say 'A new Mo Hayder novel' and it would have done its job of making me want to read this book. I'm not a huge fan of her early work, but SKIN and RITUAL are two of my favourite contemporary crime novels.
This isn't a Jack Caffrey/Walking Man novel, it's a standalone, and seems to be conscious effort on the author's part to step back from her reputation for dark horror and graphic violence. The story is told through the eyes of two sisters, estranged since childhood, one being our tough-nut DI Benedict, the other her homely sister, Sally.
Of the two, it's Sally who has the strangest life. Recently separated, with a teenage daughter for whom we fear the worst, Sally has shacked up with a hired-gun and is working for a pornographer of such revolting character that it's a foregone conclusion he'll be killed sooner or later. Sally, in an anxious flap which is her default setting, confides in her older sister, Zoe, and the two attempt an awkward reconciliation while trying to solve the crime and keep Millie (Sally's daughter) safe.
The book's crowning achievement is its ending, a twist that's genuinely shocking and subtle and which sends you back to the beginning to read again, on the lookout for clues.
That said, the story lacked the credibility of the Caffrey novels, oddly enough given that the subject matter is far more accessible and domestic. But perhaps Mo's MO is dark and graphic; without these at the heart of the story, she veers towards melodrama and caricature; more than one of the characters felt unreal and there's a sense of the author's tongue being firmly in her cheek as she introduces pimped-up drug dealers and millionaire people traffickers into the sleepy streets around Bath.
Worth reading, nonetheless, for that terrific ending: a master-class in how to wrap up a crime novel without the usual exhaustive (and exhausting) explanations.
Read another review of HANGING HILL.
Sarah Hilary, England
Sarah Hilary is the Bristol-based winner of the Sense Creative Writing Award 2010 and the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize 2008. In 2012, she launched Flashbang, a crime writing contest in association with CrimeFest. Sarah's working on a crime novel. Her agent is Jane Gregory.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.