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.