Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Some novels, even if they are very dark in places, are lifted up by a sort of black humour that relieves the tension. That’s the sort of series that Douglas Lindsay’s DCI Robert Jericho series is, so let’s turn the spotlight on We Are the Hanged Man, the first of that series.
As the novel begins, Met DCI Jericho has relatively recently been transferred to the small city of Wells. He’s glad of the relative peace and quiet of his new assignment as opposed to working in London. Before long, though, he is challenged on a few fronts. For one thing, he’s just been volunteered by Superintendent Dylan to be a part of Britain’s Got Justice, a reality/unscripted show in which contestants compete as apprentice police officers. It’s intended as,
‘…crime prevention for the Facebook/YouTube generation.’
The show hasn’t been doing well of late, and the executives hope that having Jericho on the show as an expert panelist and judge will boost ratings. As the executives see it, the arrangement will work well for Jericho, too, as it will give him more celebrity status than he already has (more on that shortly). The last thing that Jericho wants to do is be a part of a shallow reality show. But he really doesn’t have much choice. So, he and Sergeant Haynes begin working with the crew.
But the television experience isn’t the only thing on Jericho’s mind. He’s received a tarot card – The Hanged Man – anonymously. He’s not particularly familiar with tarot, so one of the first things he does is to try to find out what the card means. But it’s hard to tell whether it’s someone who’s confessing to (or boasting of) having killed, or warning of killings to come. Slowly, Jericho and Haynes try to find out who sent the card, and what it might have meant. Then, Jericho receives another tarot card. It’s obvious now that someone is deliberately targeting him, perhaps as a taunt, perhaps as a warning. It’s not just the intellectual puzzle, either: it’s also the fact that Jericho could be in danger. So, he and Haynes don’t have much time to find out who’s behind those mysterious ‘gifts.’
Then, the whole tenor of the television show changes when one of the contestants, Lorraine, ‘Lo’ Allison disappears. Since she was as eager to win as the other contestants, it’s not likely she would have left the show voluntarily. And, as time goes by and she doesn’t return, it’s more and more likely that something has happened. So, Jericho joins the search for her. In the end, we learn what’s happened to Lo, and how it relates to other deaths and disappearances that have taken place.
One element in this novel is the darkly funny, cynical look it takes at unscripted television and the people who write, produce, star in and watch such shows:
‘Their perfect police officer was to be some weird combination of Justin Beiber and Gemma Arterton…’
There are all sorts of calculated media leaks, lies, and manipulation to boost the show’s ratings, and readers who themselves are cynical about such television will appreciate this.
We also see cynicism in the character of Jericho. And, since several sections of the story are told from his point of view, we get to know his personality. He’s rather morose, and certainly doesn’t buy into any of the hype about the television show. He has no patience for that. He’s a brilliant detective who’s not particularly easy to be around; in fact, there are only a few people he’s willing to work with, who are also willing to work with him. But he’s very, very good at his job. In fact, he’s gained a certain amount of fame (which, by the way, he has no desire for) because he’s been able to solve some difficult cases. He’s quite flawed, but he’s not one of those stereotypical drunken detectives who can’t deal with their lives. He has fits of depression, but they don’t stop him doing his job.
The novel is, as I say, darkly funny, even sarcastic. That thread adds relief to what is, in some places, a very dark, violent story. If I may put it this way, it’s not for the faint of heart, or for those who prefer their crime fiction to be low on explicit sex and graphic language.
Another element in the novel is the complexity of the plot. On the one hand, there are things we know about the plot right from the beginning – things Jericho doesn’t know at first. In that sense, Lindsay uses the omniscient reader as a way to build suspense. At the same time, there are plot layers and relationships among plot threads that aren’t revealed at first. This isn’t a linear plot with one thread and focus. And there are characters who turn out to be not what they seem to be at first.
The major plot thread – what happened to Lo, and why – is resolved in the novel. Readers who like to know who the guilty person is and what the motive is will appreciate this. But at the same time, there are things left unanswered. Readers who may be interested in going on in the series will appreciate this segue into the next novel.
We Are the Hanged Man takes a cynical and sometimes darkly witty and sardonic look at the world of reality/unscripted television. It features a sometimes-morose, but not disconnected, detective, and a complicated set of plot threads that tie together unexpectedly. But what’s your view? Have you read We Are the Hanged Man? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday, 26 December/Tuesday, 27 December – The Masala Murder – Madhumita Bhattacharya
Monday, 2 January/Tuesday, 3 January – A Three-Pipe Problem – Julian Symons
Monday, 9 January/Tuesday, 10 January – Burial Rites – Hannah Kent