Martin Edwards is one of my favourite authors and in my opinion he should have a much higher profile in crime fiction. His Dancing for the Hangman, a fictionalised account of the life of Crippen is a story told with intelligence and enormous ability, a benchmark for all would be writers of this particular genre.
Edwards writes two ‘series’ and both display the skills of a master storyteller. The first is the Harry Devlin books eight novels about a solicitor from Liverpool. The Coffin Trail was the first of The Lake District Mysteries. Followed by The Cypher Garden, The Arsenic Labyrinth and The Serpent Pool. The Hanging Wood is the fifth book featuring Detective Chief Inspector Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind. This series has a wonderful sense of place, the characters are interesting and believable. The relationship between Scarlett and Kind runs through the books but each novel stands alone. Followers of the series will know that Miranda has left Daniel and now Hannah is also on her own. Marc wants her back, but Hannah is not sure what she wants.
What a start; “I must talk to Hannah Scarlett, it’s a matter of life and death.” Orla Payne calls the Cold Case Review Team of the Cumbrian Constabulary, but she is hopelessly drunk and makes no sense and she rings off in frustration. Twenty years ago, when Orla was a child, her brother Callum disappeared. His uncle committed suicide soon after and the police closed the case believing his actions an admission of guilt. Orla never thought her Uncle could do such a thing and the body was never found. After the fruitless phone call, she goes to her father's farm and commits suicide in a corn silo.
Orla Payne worked at St Herbert's Residential Library where Daniel Kind is trying to finish his latest book before the deadline. It was he that suggested she talk to Hannah Scarlett. Orla & Callum had a disrupted childhood with breakdown of their parents’ marriage. The children lived with their mother, Niamh, who had married Kit Payne. Orla took her stepfather’s surname but Callum could never accept him. He stayed in contact with his father an often visited the farm. The uncle, Philip, lived nearby in a cottage in The Hanging Wood. The farm and the wood are close to an upmarket caravan park owned by Gareth and Bryan Madsen who live at Mockbeggar Hall. The Madsens’ are people of some standing; they have a lot of influence in the area and financially support police initiatives. This puts Hannah under pressure from her boss to wrap up the investigation quickly.
The Hanging Wood is a beautifully written novel. There are lots of twists and we are kept guessing right to the end. Highly recommended.