The Hanged Man by Simon Kernick

Review published on January 6, 2018.

This is the second in the latest series of novels by the acclaimed British thriller writer, Simon Kernick. While you can read this easily enough as a standalone, I quickly bought the first in the series, The Bone Field, and read that, which undoubtedly added to my enjoyment. While this is a new series of novels, it does feature recurring characters from previous books, namely Ray Mason, a former Met detective now with the National Crime Agency, and Tina Boyd, also a former Met detective but now a private detective.

In The Bone Field our two protagonists had uncovered a crime ring abducting young women and sacrificing them in a devil worshipping ceremony. The plot of The Hanged Man follows the events of the previous book with Mason and Boyd trying to bring the criminals to justice. The gang includes a major organised crime figure and his chief enforcer and a sinister brother and sister linked to the establishment, so this proves incredibly difficult. There are also hints that a wider network of connected, establishment figures is involved and that they are being shielded by powerful people.

While primarily a crime thriller, there are hints of a supernatural element to this latest series of novels. This is an interesting development because until recently this genre blend was not popular amongst mainstream publishers. In fact, one of my favourite authors, James Oswald, initially self-published his Inspector McClean series because no publisher would touch a supernatural/crime thriller mash up (Oswald has since been snatched up by Penguin). Kernick’s latest series isn’t as much of a genre blend as Oswald’s work, the devil-worshipping element is very light indeed, and there are other influences, namely the recent spate of allegations concerning organised child abuse amongst the establishment. That said, this is somewhat of a departure from his usual work, which tends to focus on either ordinary people who stumble upon gangsters or cops investigating organised crime.

Some of the characters in The Bone Field and The Hanged Man are very well drawn indeed. The villains in particular. Mr Bone, the chief henchman of the organised crime boss, is as sinister as they come and a great villain, while the sister, Anthea Delbarto, is malevolent and menacing in the extreme. The heroes, Ray Mason and Tina Boyd, are also well drawn, but the problem with using recurring characters in such high-octane thrillers as Simon Kernick writes is that it starts to stretch credulity that so much could occur to them. There are points in both novels where the author has to quickly recap what has happened to them in their lives – for example, Tina Boyd has been shot twice, kidnapped once, been held hostage and been involved in at least three killings. I doubt any Met police officer has ever had all that happen to them in their careers and when typed out on the page it’s obviously ludicrous. That said, Kernick isn’t the only author to use recurring characters in action-packed series and the same criticism could be levelled at numerous others, Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher, for example, so this isn’t a major concern. Perhaps the secret is not to spell it out and draw too much attention to the fact that so much has happened to one person.

All in all, The Hanged Man (and it’s forerunner, The Bone Field) is a pretty good novel and is well worth a read. It ends on a cliffhanger, a third instalment is on the way, and I will definitely be reading it.

James Pierson 4/4

The Hanged Man by Simon Kernick
Century 9781780894478 hbk Nov 2017

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