Written by Søren and Lotte Hammer — Konrad Simonsen, lead detective in Copenhagen’s Murder Squad, is recalled from his long overdue holiday with his daughter after two children discover the corpses of five men hanging from the ceiling of their school gymnasium. They have been castrated and had their hands cut off and some have been further mutilated. The men are naked and there is nothing to identify them.
The only lead the team have is the initial routine interview with the school caretaker. He is a very clever man who fell into his current lowly post after becoming an alcoholic. He is well liked by the staff and over the last months has stopped drinking and become more reliable. At interview he is openly hostile, sarcastic and contradictory in his answers without provocation, as if he is deliberately calling attention to himself. And, he disappears before he can be interviewed again. When his body is found in his office, having committed suicide, the team know they have to dig deeper into the caretaker’s past.
The gruesome nature of the killings is attracting heavy media interest, and the powers that be, including the police chief and the Minister of Justice offer Simonsen all the resources he needs but make it clear they expect results fast. Rumours quickly spread that the men were paedophiles though the team have no evidence for this. As they conduct their investigation they find themselves blocked at every turn by a hostile public. People are beginning to see the murders as a form of justice and the team as symbols of a country that is soft on paedophiles.
An internet campaign seems to spontaneously emerge to bring the issue into public debate with victims describing the effect sexual abuse has had on them. Furthermore, members of his own team are beginning to question whether they are on the right side. Simonsen begins to realise that there is a conspiracy at large, not just to get away with murder but to change Danish society. As vigilante attacks begin Simonsen knows he has to crack this conspiracy before there are more deaths.
There are some excellent examples of collaborative writing in crime fiction, going back to the cousins behind Ellory Queen, the husband and wife team that is Nicci French, and let’s not forget Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö in the Scandinavian branch of the genre. Now we can add to this list of successes the brother and sister team of Søren and Lotte Hammer. The Hanging begins a little slowly despite the brutality of the murders, and is a little disorientating as the story moves between the perspective of the police and that of the killers. However things get much clearer as you continue reading. By the end, it’s absolutely gripping. The book has some very interesting things to say about the law and justice but this is not done in a didactic way. The members of the Murder Squad are each given fully-rounded personalities and I enjoyed spending time with them.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars