Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review of We are the Hanged Man by Douglas Lindsay (Blasted Heath, 2012)

DCI Robert Jericho used to be the most famous detective in Britain having solved a series of high profile cases.  Then his wife, the love of his life, vanished.  Ten years later he’s a sullen, morose copper working in the small cathedral city of Wells, drifting through a stream of meaningless relationships.  Then a tarot card of the hanged man arrives in the post, quickly followed by his boss agreeing to him being a judge and mentor on Britain’s Got Justice, the latest reality television show by uber-TV mogul Steven Washington.  Jericho doesn’t have the right disposition for reality television.  He’s silent and broody and he doesn’t give a damn about the show and its vacuous contestants.  All he wants to do is find out who is sending him tarot cards and why, and he certainly doesn’t want the contestants actively involved in his cases.  But since the police force has signed an all-access contract with the TV company, he doesn’t have a choice.  Then one of the contestants disappears.  Jericho thinks it’s a stunt by the producers, but he’s wrong.  His old nemesis is back at work and he’s definitely someone you don’t amateurs trying to tackle, even if it does make good TV and headlines.

In We are the Hanged Man Lindsay mercilessly satirises reality television to great effect.  At points the story appears to hang on a comic flight of fantasy, but as unlikely as parts of the premise seemed somewhat paradoxically they also felt wholly plausible given the pervasive and intrusive nature of reality television and how society is presently governed.  Indeed, the story is very nicely plotted, thickly laced with dark humour, with a little bit of everything thrown in - drama, intrigue, humour, mystery, tension, romance.  It has some wonderful observational touches, played out through some excellent dialogue and scenes.  The characterisation is very well done, especially the reluctant and gloomy Jericho, his bitchy and resentful boss, the ambitious and morally bankrupt television producers, and the celebrity-seeking contestants of dubious character and abilities.  There are a number of feints and twists and turns, and the story builds to a dramatic climax that has a satisfying resolution whilst also leaving the way open for a follow-on book.  A sign of a great book is that the reader is always looking to create time to read a few more pages and as they near the end there’s a palpable sense of disappointment that the story will soon end.  We are the Hanged Man was one of those books and it’s my read of the year so far.

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