Edwards, Martin – ‘The Hanging Wood’
Hardback: 352 pages (July 2011) Publisher: Allison & Busby ISBN: 0749010541
Martin Edwards’s Lake District mysteries can usually be relied on to have a bookish theme, and THE HANGING WOOD is no exception. Historian Daniel Kind is continuing his research on his book about de Quincy at St Herbert’s private residential library near Keswick in the north of the region. He does not get much work done, though, because one of the women who works there and whom Daniel has befriended is distraught when she thinks her brother, missing presumed dead 17 years ago, is still alive. Daniel recommends that she contacts DCI Hannah Scarlett of the “cold case” squad, but before much else happens, disaster strikes.
Hannah and her new sergeant are assigned the job of looking into the boy’s disappearance, interviewing his irascible father on his farm, and uncovering a tangled web of family relationships. These relationships extend to the library also. Fleur Masden is a local heiress who is not only a trustee of the library but who married the owner of a caravan park adjoining her family pile and is now having it converted into a more luxurious expansion of the park. Her niece “Sham” (short for Chamois) works at the library as does a strange character called Aslan who clearly has some relationship to the tragic family as well as an interest in Sham and her sister Purdey. (This is a book where characters have strange names, for example Fleur’s deceased brother was called Jolyon as their parents liked The Forsyte Saga.)
Hannah pursues her investigation and Daniel digs into the odd relationships and tensions between the families involved in the boy’s disappearance and an apparent suicide. Eventually, another death leads both Hannah and Daniel to suspect what has really been going on in the past, and why people are dying now. Of course, there is a “will they won’t they?” element to the story of Daniel and Hannah: in this novel Hannah is ambivalent about her ex-partner Marc from whom she split up six months ago, as well as her ongoing feelings for Daniel and some new ones for her sergeant, who is not the sexist bore that his previous reputation had suggested.
This novel is well up to the standards of the series, as well as providing plenty of descriptions of this particularly beautiful part of the Lake District in north-west England. It is a traditional mystery that will be much enjoyed by anyone who likes a good, solid read with sympathetic characters and a literary theme.