First Line: "I must talk to Hannah Scarlett, it's a matter of life and death."
Orla Payne has returned to the Lake District, and she wants the truth about her brother Callum's disappearance. When her uncle committed suicide in the Hanging Wood, everyone else took it as an admission of guilt in Callum's death. But the boy's body was never found, and Orla wants the truth. At the urging of historian Daniel Kind who's finishing up his latest book at St. Herbert's Library, she tries to interest DCI Hannah Scarlett of Cumbria's Cold Case Review Team in the case. Unfortunately each time she tries, Orla is drunk and makes less than a credible source of information. But when Orla dies, Hannah Scarlett is determined to find out what happened to Callum-- and to Orla.
"Don't you care about justice?" Orla's drunken message haunts DCI Hannah Scarlett even more than recent budget cuts do. Since Orla is assumed to have died as a result of an accident, Hannah promises her boss that she'll only give the case a lick and a promise, but she knows that if she and Detective Sergeant Greg Wharf work fast and hard, she'll be able to bring about the justice that Orla so desperately wanted. Greg Wharf has turned out to be the surprise on the team. Presenting himself as a "Jack the Lad" and a sexual harassment case just waiting to happen, Wharf has turned into quite the investigator and is a big help to Hannah.
Greg's evolution is one of the many reasons why I enjoy this Lake District series so much. Edwards' characterizations are layered and as you're drawn into the stories, you come to realize how much you care for these people. Daniel Kind and Hannah Scarlett are made for each other, but they're taking their sweet time in getting together, partly due in fact to Hannah's difficulty in ending her old relationship with bookseller Marc Amos. And Wharf? In so many other series, he would remain forever a "Jack the Lad," but in Edwards' hands-- although he still remains a wolf-- he's a wolf with surprising depth to his character. Methinks he's going to play a larger part in books to come, and I'm looking forward to the developments.
The Hanging Wood is a bit of a locked room mystery even though nothing of import actually takes place behind a closed door. It's the entire location that's locked down to outsiders. St. Herbert's Library, Mockbeggar Hall, the Hanging Wood, Lane End Farm, and the upscale caravan park all seem to form a little world, and when one of the characters states that not even poachers would go into the Hanging Wood, it was my clue that outsiders were not involved. The problem was in ferreting out which insider was responsible.
When Hannah and Greg begin investigating, they find an almost incestuous knot of people living there. Niamh Hinds divorces the farmer to marry someone working at the caravan park. Her son Callum stays with his father while Orla goes with her mother. The farmer's brother lives in the Hanging Wood. The daughter of the man who owned Mockbeggar Hall marries the owner of the caravan park. And so it goes. I actually deduced the identity of the killer before the reveal, but there was no way I could've understood the why of it all. This leads to one of my favorite scenes in the book in which Hannah is interrogating one person of interest in one place while Daniel is doing the very same thing at another location. On the surface, the scene is a comparison of interviewing styles, but it reveals so much more about the characters of Hannah and Daniel. Daniel's father was a police officer and Hannah's superior at one time. It's obvious that Daniel is familiar with police procedure. The scene also shows how very good these two are at what they do and that they belong together. A little romantic tension when those two aren't even in the same building. Good, isn't it?
That's just one scene. The Hanging Wood is an excellent entry in a superior series. Yes, you can walk right into the action in this book and not really miss anything, but I'd suggest that you start at the beginning so you can savor every little bit of the atmosphere of England's beautiful Lake District and the wonderful stories and characters that Martin Edwards has created.
The Hanging Wood by Martin Edwards
Poisoned Pen Press © 2011
Paperback, 278 pages
Police Procedural, #5 Lake District mystery
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.