Hangman by Daniel Cole

Reviewed by Rod McLary

There is a fine tradition of crime novels written by English and Scottish authors – consider the novels of Ruth Rendell, PD James, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Colin Dexter just to name a few.  Each of these authors created a police officer as his/her protagonist – respectively Chief Inspector Wexford, Commander Adam Dalgleish, Inspector John Rebus, Chief Inspector Carol Jordan and Inspector Morse.  All commanding characters with more than a touch of humanity who engage the reader at both the literary and personal level.

Daniel Cole is also an English crime writer and Hangman is his second book in the trilogy entitled Ragdoll.  He has created his police officer – Chief Inspector Emily Baxter – who was ‘catapulted’ into promotion as a result of solving a major crime described in the first book also called Ragdoll.  Unfortunately, neither the book nor its police officer quite measures up to the standard set by the authors above.

Cole’s CI Baxter is brash, impulsive, opinionated, difficult to manage and has poor social skills – and is rather clumsy.  It almost seems that the author has created an anti-hero in counterpoint to the police officers referred to above.  If this is the case, then unfortunately it results in the reader not engaging with or caring too much about the character.

Baxter is in a relationship with a lawyer who seems willing to accommodate her shortcomings.  She also has – almost de rigueur in the genre – a ‘best friend’ who is prepared to break the law to provide Baxter with information she is not entitled to have.  She engages her friend in the Fraud Squad to provide her with weekly statements about her partner’s financial situation – a request which is illegal and which places her friend at risk of criminal charges as well as disciplinary proceedings.  The fact that these potential consequences mean nothing to her says a great deal about her character.

The ‘crime’ at the heart of the book is particularly heinous.  In fact, it almost defies belief.  Eighteen months after the ‘Ragdoll’ murders – which form the basis of the first book – a body is found hanging from New York’s Brooklyn Bridge.  In London, a copycat murder occurs.  These two murders, similar but a continent apart, require Baxter to work closely but uneasily with two United States Special Agents.  Baxter trusts neither of them and, with one of them in particular, goes to great lengths to discover his secret.  When she does – much to his distress – she seems unable to express any remorse for her intrusive behaviour.

Rather than having one villain, the author has created numerous villains all of whom are charged with the responsibility of killing one person first and then as many others as she/he can manage.  As further killings occur on both sides of the Atlantic, the tense and unhelpful relationship between Baxter and the Special Agents does nothing to assist in identifying the person behind the killings.

The body count is alarming – it exceeds two hundred – and the manner of many of the deaths is bizarre to say the least.  This is not a book for the fainthearted.

Chief Inspector Baxter seems to be a free agent.  She travels from London to New York on more than one occasion and apparently reports to no one.  Unfortunately, she also seems to be one step behind the mastermind and many people die in the process of tracking him down.  It is difficult to muster up any sympathy for her as she is drawn as a rather unpleasant character who constantly puts her superiors and colleagues offside.

This book is a crowded one with multiple victims, numerous characters some of whom appear and disappear with little impact, references to the previous book, multiple storylines which are somewhat confusing and distracting; and – at the heart of the book – a rather unlikeable protagonist.  The novel would have benefitted from a paring down of the characters and storylines and perhaps a better book may have emerged.

The author claims the novel can be read independently of its predecessor, but this turns out to be more difficult than it seems.  There are frequent references to the first book – Ragdoll – and the story follows on sequentially.  Some of these references are meaningless without some knowledge of the first book.  In addition, there are references to a character who is clearly significant in terms of both the storyline and his relationship with Baxter but of whom little detail is provided.

In the Author Q&A at the end of the book, the author acknowledges that ‘there’s no way to get around the fact that people will get far more out of the book if they’ve read Ragdoll’.  It would be advisable for any reader considering this book to read Ragdoll first – it will assist in the understanding of the storyline.

There will be a third book to follow and it is clear from the inconclusive ending to Hangman that the storyline will continue.

Daniel Cole has worked as a paramedic and seems to have drawn on this experience in describing some of the injuries incurred by the characters.  While this adds a frisson of horror to the story, it does not make Hangman a better book.

Hangman

[2018]

by Daniel Cole

Hachette Australia

ISBN 978 1 4091 6880 5

368pp; $29.99

 

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