Written by Daniel Cole –– This author’s shocking debut, Ragdoll, proved a runaway success when it was published last year and was one of my top five reads of 2017. Hangman continues that story 18 months on and once again Cole has produced a novel that attaches itself to your brain like velcro.
In the aftermath of the Ragdoll investigation, Emily Baxter has been promoted to Detective Chief Inspector and is feeling out of her depth without the support of her friend and mentor, William Oliver Layton-Fawkes, otherwise known as Wolf, who is in the wind after book one. Baxter is drowning under a sea of paperwork and admin and itching to be in the thick of things again. Be careful what you wish for…
The book begins with a lengthy prologue where Baxter is being grilled by a motley bunch of higher-ups. Something has gone badly wrong but it’s going to be a good long while until you are let in on what it is. Cole sets his trap and captures the attention from the get-go. Prepare yourself for a sleepless night or two as you hungrily read on… and on…
The story then leaps back a few weeks. It’s early December and Baxter is trying in vain to tackle some of the ever-growing pile of paperwork on her desk in the Homicide and Serious Crime Command. A leaving speech from one of her colleagues on the Ragdoll investigation proves a welcome distraction. DS Finlay Shaw is a friend as well as a workmate and she’s sorry to see him go.
Then her train of thought is broken again by a visit from Met Commander Geena Vanita, with two visitors in tow. Things are about to get a lot more interesting. FBI Special Agent Elliot Curtis and CIA Special Agent Damien Rouche (sounds like whoosh) have flown over to see Baxter and they want her help after a body is found suspended from the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. The victim was a banker called William Fawkes, and he had the word ‘BAIT’ carved into his chest.
Sounds like an interesting proposition, but world weary Baxter has heard it all before. After all, there have been seven Ragdoll copycat crimes in the UK since the real murderer was stopped. However, the victim’s name gives her pause and after some persuasion she reluctantly agrees to travel to the Big Apple in an advisory role.
It’s when Baxter, Rouche and Curtis arrive on American soil that the pace really picks up. there have been more deaths, kept from the public eye, and those involved had words BAIT or PUPPET carved into their chests. Who is playing whom? Prepare yourself for some mighty imaginative crime scenes, probably with a few nightmares thrown in, as Cole really hits his stride. This author is a dab hand at creating gruesome tableaux that insinuate themselves into the subconscious. The puppet-like, stitched together, conglomeration of different murder victims that loomed so large in Ragdoll is, dare I say it, surpassed in spades on several occasions in Hangman. Some scenes are cinematic in their gory detail and a couple that occur in well known New York locations are particularly well conceived.
I loved this book, and got pulled along in rip tide created by the ever-unpredictable Baxter and her prickly relationships with her two new work colleagues. The scenes with Rouche are particularly entertaining, but you’ll find plenty of laugh out loud moments here. It’s rare that a book with such gore and darkness in its soul also has room for light-hearted moments, but Cole balances things just right. One minute you’re trying not to be sick, the next you may be surprised to find a smile on your face. Ragdoll is a book I’ll cherish for a long, long time. Looks like Hangman is about to join it.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars