The Hanging Club by Tony Parsons is the 3rd book in the Max Wolfe series, where Wolfe must track down a vigilante group responsible for the retributive killings of freed criminals.
I am staggered by the amount of top-class thrillers I am reading at the moment, and The Hanging Club by Tony Parsons is no exception. Finely tuned, impeccable writing and very powerful characters took me to the edge of my seat and kept me there, until the ending dumped me on the floor unceremoniously, in a hot, sweaty mess.
Detective Constable Wolfe is in a dilemma. Men are being murdered—hanged by the neck until dead—and it’s being filmed and put up on the internet for all to see. These men all have one thing in common, other than the nature of their deaths: they had been found guilty of sickening crimes but with a sentence deemed inappropriate by the self-appointed purveyors of justice, who then handed out their form of retribution and broadcast it online.
D.C. Wolfe should be appalled, disgusted, and firmly on the side of the law, but he is a single father with a little girl. What would he do if someone hurt her, or worse, and was still walking the streets after being subjected to legal justice? He knows, and the answer is alarming.
Things heat up with each hanging, and some of the bodies are now being dumped in Central London. The murderers have a sense of history, as the unfortunate victims final resting place is either on or near the spot known as Tyburn—the place where public hangings used to take place in London, when such things still existed.
Clues are few and far between. The assailants wear all black, their faces covered as they mete out their brand of justice. Wolfe tracks down and interviews people related to the victims of the original crimes perpetrated by the murdered men. The list is long and varied, from an ordinary working family to a notorious old-time gangster who makes it clear if he had been involved, he would have furnished himself a better alibi.
In addition to being a brilliant read, it is an uncomfortable one. What would you do if revenge and retribution seemed the only option? The truth is your own business, but if that truth is acted upon, it belongs to everyone. There is much to admire about this extremely well written book, but little of it is pretty.
Suddenly there were punches in my face, wild punches that scuffed against my ear, my forehead and high on my cheekbone. Nothing punches. Then one caught me flush on the jaw and the next thing I knew I was on my hands and knees. A foot slammed into my ribs. And another, the other side this time. I could not get up.
And then, through their legs as they continued to kick me, I saw Jackson.
The runt who had screamed in my face went down first. Jackson aimed one low, hard kick at his knee, the side of his foot connecting with bone and ligament, ripping them apart, sending him down with a scream that turned them all around.
Jackson wasted nothing.
These were not the same as the kicks that were pounding into me. These were expert, economical movements, shocking in their violence, his foot raising and turning and aimed at knees.
And connecting. Another one hit the deck, his face twisted with agony. Two of them went for Jackson at once. He stepped forward, lifted his hands and inserted both his thumbs into their eye sockets. As they whirled away, howling, their hands clutching their faces, he kicked their knees. It wasn’t the kind of fighting you learn in a boxing gym. There was nothing fair about it. There was no respect for his opponent. He destroyed them. I wondered if they would ever walk again.
One man was left standing. Jackson moved swiftly towards him and swung his body, his right elbow connecting with the man’s mouth, showering front teeth across the pavement. He kicked both of the man’s knees before he hit the pavement.
Then he was helping me to my feet and we were running.
We did not speak when we were running. And we did not speak as we cleaned ourselves up and I dressed the wound that he had on his elbow, his flesh torn away by the front teeth of the last man.
And then we looked at each other.
“What kind of chef were you?” I said.
This is the first book of Mr. Parson’s I have read, but I can assure you it will not be the last. The Murder Man and The Slaughter Man await me. Crime, murder, mystery, intrigue, and human behavior do not come in nicely packaged forms, ready for palatable consumption. They are dirty, messy, and inconvenient and hold a mirror up to us all, showing reflections that we may not want to accept.
It takes real skill to balance all of these and hold a reader in the story without alienating them, and Mr. Parsons exhibits this talent in abundance. While not an easy story to stomach, if you’re looking for premier crime writing, you can’t go wrong with The Hanging Club.
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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.