Monday, March 5, 2012

"Hanging Hill" by Mo Hayder

Sally and Zoe Benedict are sisters, but have not spoken for twenty-odd years. Zoe is now a Detective Inspector investigating the brutal rape and murder of sixteen-year-old Lorne Wood. Sally is a single mother working a dead-end job to keep things together after her divorce. When Sally accidentally kills her employer in self-defence, the sisters lives inevitably collide.

If you read the back cover of the book, it's apparent the publishers weren't quite sure how to sell this one. There's mention of Zoe's "crippling secret" that might destroy her. She was a stripper when she was eighteen. Oh My God. Sally is "forced into a criminal world of extreme pornography and illegal drugs". No, she's not. Her employer turns out to be a pornographer, yes, but she does not get involved in his world in any way. Her daughter Millie owes money to a known drug dealer, yes, but it's not for drugs. This is a world in which "teenage girls can go missing". I'm sure it is, but no teenage girls go missing in this book. There's a dead teenager, yes, but no missing ones. The book cover poses the question: "You would die for your child. But would you kill for her?" Ooooh. Sally doesn't kill for her daughter. The death is an accident as a result of self-defence.

Basically, "Hanging Hill" is a soap opera with a murder thrown in to pass it off as a crime novel. Having Zoe investigate the disappearance of Sally's employer is not terribly enthralling because WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT HAPPENED. Maybe the author was going for some sort of dramatic irony through having Zoe investigate her own sister's crime without knowing it. In any case, it wasn't interesting and I began to skim. There is zero suspense here. The murder of Lorne Wood often feels like an afterthought. Sally and her boyfriend's escapades in covering up the death of her employer feel more like an episode of "Melrose Place".

Of course, Hayder has a legacy - or reputation, rather - to live up to. "Birdman" had a murderer sowing live birds into the chests of dead women so that it would sound like a heartbeat when he had sex with the body. "The Treatment" had a killer who was terrified of lactating women and would try to force fathers to rape their own sons. "Pig Island" had a woman anally raping (with her finger) a girl with a tail. When you think about it, it's kind of hard to top that. Perhaps why her novels are getting more and more disappointing as they go along. Just to show she can still be nasty if she wants to, Hayder throws in a gratuitous rape scene. Events could have still gotten to where they were meant to without that scene happening.

There's a mildly effective twist at the end - to leave you "hanging" as it were. It's appropriate that a cheap, shoddy, rambling pile of junk like this should end with such a cheap tactic. Hayder has scratched herself off my reading list with this rubbish.


  1. Hi,
    I have just finished reading Hanging Hill today and I am not sure if I understand the ending at all. Who did kill Lorne? Nial? And is it Millie whose funeral we witness at the beginning? And if Nial is the murderer, why is he attending the funeral? Zoe recognised him! I am not a native speaker, maybe I haven't understood everything - I would be very grateful for a clue. Thanks -
    Urte, a crime fiction lover

  2. Ah, your review sums up most of my own views on this book. Have just finished reading it, and found it terrifically unengaging: the characters are so thinly-drawn as to seem more like puppets. You're spot on in saying it is more like a soap opera than a crime novel: it does lack credibility, doesn't it? Zoe as a copper who insists - rightly, as it happens - on doing things by the book, then goes off the rails in so doing, absenting herself from a murder squad the while on unexplained business (yeah, right); while her fellow officers are all under the spell of a forensic psych. who is depicted as a simpering, bitchy idiot: likely? Erm, not really ...
    And the beginning and ending should connect more closely: as U Seiffert suggests, rather than leaving anxiety-inducing loose ends, they tend to raise more questions than they answer. The effect is to unbalance the novel.
    And why-oh-why couldn't an editor have corrected the more glaring errors, e.g. that a line of text or quote/saying printed on a T-shirt is a SLOGAN, not a 'logo'! The kind of silly mistake can jar a reader's attention, break concentration and turn tension into farce - and for which there is no excuse: bad writing/editing.

  3. Thanks for commenting, Minnie! And for agreeing with me, lol. I admit that I'm not the greatest at picking up on factual or grammatical errors; I focus more an aggravating character traits or bad plotting, but your comment on Slogan as opposed to Logo is endemic of most books these days. I suspect editors are too frightened to tell bestselling authors that they're writing junk!