Friday, November 18, 2011

Review of The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris (Corvus, 2010)

Glasgow, 1946. Hugh Donovan is a few weeks away from being hanged for the brutal killing of five young children when he contacts Douglas Brodie, his childhood friend. As teenagers Donovan stole Brodie's girlfriend and since then the two have not spoken, going their separate ways. Brodie won a scholarship to university, then joined the police before enlisting in the army. Donovan served as a tail gunner in a bomber, becoming horribly disfigured when his plane caught fire. Despite his apathy, Brodie visits Donovan in prison and agrees to help his legal advocate Samantha Campbell investigate the case further and prepare an appeal. Both quickly become convinced that Donovan is innocent and has been set-up by the police and other forces. Those forces seem to determine to stop them discovering the truth and soon their own lives are in danger.

The Hanging Shed has all the ingredients of a successful crime novel - strong characters, a compelling plot, good pace, credible dialogue and action, and good contextualisation and back story. The tale very quickly grabs the reader's attention and the pages fly by. And yet there was something that didn't quite feel right. The storytelling seemed a little formulaic. Ferris structures the story into short chapters, each typically six to eight pages long, with each chapter ending on a mini-cliff hanger. This is great for pulling the reader through the story, but I found the formula repetitive after a while restricting the narrative in its scope and form. That's not to say I wasn't gripped by the plot, I absolutely was. And I found Brodie an interesting lead character that I'd like to spend more time with. However, it all seemed a little bit by numbers. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable book, if a little formulaic.

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