Somewhere in London, a taxi stops to pick up a fare. Nothing unusual in that except this is no ordinary passenger. This is a man who wants more than transportation to the other side of London. His life under threat, the driver, Mahmud Irani, is forced to take the man into an empty building site, forced to make his way to an isolated room, forced to stand upon a stool as a noose is placed around his neck. But Irani is no ordinary taxi driver either. He has committed some serious crimes against young girls, crimes for which he served only a very light sentence. But it has been decided that justice was not served, that the sentence did not fit the crime, but as Irani is shown pictures of the victims of his crime, he shows no remorse, even as the life starts to leave his body.
When the video of his hanging appears on line, posted under the name of one of the country’s most infamous executioners, it is down to the MIT at West End Central to investigate. The team, led by DCI Whitestone and featuring our protagonist, DC Max Wolfe, are in a difficult position. When the nature of Irani’s crimes is revealed and his body is found near to the site of Tyburn, the place at which sentences of death by Hanging were carried out, it becomes clear that this is more than just a hate crime. When a live feed to a second hanging is posted, followed by a third, the killers are putting out a clear message. That justice is not served by the courts and that vigilantes are willing to take the necessary action that the judicial system cannot.
When DCI Whitestone is drawn away from the case to deal with personal matters, Max is thrown into the spotlight, making him a target for the killers. Max may on some level agree with their feelings, this demonstrated clearly in his frustration at the lack of justice for the family of a man beaten to death by a group of thugs, or the gang member who looks set to get away with a serious assault on Whitestone’s son, but ultimately it is his job to protect the public, all of them, no matter how abhorrent their past. He tries to conduct himself with the highest standards when it comes to police work, but this is a line sometimes crossed, and as we have seen before, even Wolfe is not above bending the law to protect his family and friends. But this is not enough for the vigilantes. To them Max is putting the rights of the guilty ahead of those of their victims and for that he has to pay.
I loved the premise of this novel, the question of how far you would go in order to gain justice when you feel let down by the people who are meant to find that justice for you. How often do we hear the cry of bring back hanging? This is essentially the story of a group of people who dare to answer that call. There is a strong cast of characters, some old ‘friends’ and some new, all skilfully brought to life in the pages. There are obvious suspects with the barest of alibis and yet it is clear there is more to this than meets the eye, and when no links can be found between them and the old man attacked by the third hanging victim, you are forced to rethink who the killer could be and question whether they may be closer to home than Max would like to believe.
I really like the back story of Max and his daughter that runs through these books, a single father struggling to do the best by his child, a young girl who is growing up with such an alarming amount of common sense and maturity. There is a certain hopelessness to Max himself as he seems doomed, from book to book, to fall for the wrong kind of woman, the unobtainable or the already attached. His has been a character I really liked since that first chapter of ‘The Murder Bag’ when he literally ran down a suspect to prevent a major terrorist incident. This is a man with a broken heart, a strong sense of justice and a real intuition when it comes to investigation. Above all else, in spite of readily putting himself in the line of fire time after time, he is, quite simply, human.
What I love most about these books, which came through as strongly as ever in this story, is the real passion Parsons has for the history of policing. It is more than just the online tracking and tracing, cyber-crimes and gang wars that can dominate a lot of plots. There is a real blend here of the old and the new, the references to the crime museum and the sins of killers from the past always a welcome addition to the story. The setting is key in these stories and Parsons really draws the reader into old London, to a time before The Old Bailey, when Newgate Prison stood strong as a symbol of all that was wrong with the past. It was not hard to reimagine the past as Parsons fleshed out the setting so well and as always, he left me wanting to know more about this part of our horrible past.
The pacing of ‘The Hanging Club’ was just right, drawing you from each crime to the other, the back stories informing the story rather than drawing away from it. The tension and stakes were kept high and for one moment it really looked as though it may be over for Max, his escape perhaps a little too easy, the one thing that didn’t ring true in the whole affair. That aside this is a gripping story, definitely a page turner. It is unusual in that, much like the people watching the hangings on line, I don’t think you will feel much sympathy for the victims and perhaps feel like you should hate the killers more than you probably will. It is possible to feel empathy for them if not for their victims, and Parsons has a real knack for creating sympathetic characters, no matter their background.
A clear 5 stars and I can’t wait to read the next one.