In The Spotlight: Douglas Lindsay’s We Are the Hanged Man

>In The Spotlight: Kate Atkinson's One Good TurnHello, All,

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

16 Comments

Filed under Douglas Lindsay, We Are the Hanged Man

16 responses to “In The Spotlight: Douglas Lindsay’s We Are the Hanged Man

  1. Margot, this sounds like a book I’d thoroughly enjoy. The fact that the protagonist isn’t a clean standard type detective makes it appealing to me. It sounds like he has faults, but he works with or around those to do his job and do it well. I’m not a big fan of ending being left hanging but if there is some closure and a hint at more to come that’s different. That makes me eager to read the next installment in the series. Thanks for an intriguing spotlight, Margot.

    • I know what you mean, Mason, about wanting closure. In the sense of finding out the truth about Lol’s disappearance, we do get closer in this one. And the few things left unanswered do offer a lure to read the next in the series. Like you, I like the fact that Jericho isnt perfect – not by a long way. But he does try to be a good cop. If you do read this one, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  2. This sounds very interesting, Margot. And he is Scottish so I could read some of his books for the Read Scotland challenge.

    • You certainly could, Tracy. This one is, as I say, not for the faint of heart, nor for those who who like the older-fashioned ‘whodunit’ sort of books. But it really is darkly, bleakly funny in some places. And I like the sardonic look it offers at reality/unscripted TV. I’ll be interested in what you think of it if you do read it.

  3. Oh I’m a big fan of sarcasm in books and there are few subjects that deserve this treatment less than reality shows!

    • Oh, I completely agree, Cleo! On that score, I think you’d like this one a lot. As I say, there some ‘peek through your fingers’ places in the book, but that dark wit runs all the way through it.

  4. I like the idea of the humour around the reality TV, but I fear the rest of it doesn’t appeal at all. Phew! My TBR is safe! 😉

    • To be perfectly frank, FictionFan, I don’t know that this would be up your street. As you say, you’d probably appreciate the wit. But the rest of the story…well, no book is for everyone. I’ll get you next time – right in the TBR! 😉

  5. Tim

    Two points: (1) I have an aversion to humor in crime fiction, but that’s just my singular weirdness (i.e., I think crime and humor are incompatible); (2) I wonder about books predicated upon time-sensitive cultural contexts (i.e, the shelf-life of a book built upon the scaffolding of reality TV will soon be irrelevant).
    Third point: Should (can) writers avoid time-sensitive cultural contexts? What do you think, Margot?

    • You make two interesting points, Tim. And you’re not alone in disliking a mix of wit and murder. I think there are plenty of people who don’t care for that mix. As to your second point, that’s a very delicate balance for a writer. How does the writer create relevant contexts for novels, and still focus on plots, characters and so on that will stand the test of time? I don’t know how long reality television will last. But it is a part of modern TV life, so it’s not surprising that Lindsay chose that context. It really will be interesting to see whether the book still feels relevant after the passage of some time.

  6. I was intrigued until you said it’s in omniscient POV. Unless it’s done well, omniscient POV can make it difficult to relate and/or empathize with the protagonist. Otherwise, this book sounds perfect for me.

    • I hadn’t thought about that aspect of the POV, Sue. But you do have a point about trying to draw the reader into the protagonist’s way of thinking. If you do decide to read this one, I’ll be interested in whether you think the POV takes away from the characters.

  7. Although the book is funny, you sound a bit on the fence, as if the plot itself isn’t terribly compelling. I must confess, the synopsis didn’t draw me in like some of the other novels you’ve reviewed.

    • The plot isn’t for everyone, GtL. But, as you say, there are parts that are very darkly funny, so you’re right; there is definitely wit there. But it won’t draw everyone in.

  8. Aspects of this appeal very much: I know the pretty town of Wells, and I love the idea of the reality show and the humour. I’m putting it on the list…

    • Oh, that’s interesting, Moira! I didn’t know you were familiar with Wells. In that sense, you’d probably like the setting, or at least it would resonate with you. And the reality show skewering is funny at times. If you do read it, I wonder what you’ll think of it…

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