Normally when I get to the stage of actually finishing up a review and publishing it, I've had a good long think, a work through the notes I take as I read, and have formed an opinion that I'm confident I can support. I therefore cannot, for the life of me work out, why THE HANGING still has me unsure.
A confrontational plot, THE HANGING starts out with a death scene that's particularly uncomfortable. The possible reason for the death of five men, left hanging in a school gym, comes much later, with the likely motive a long time before a possible perpetrator. Of course, identifying the victims was obviously going to be a problem as there is a level of disfiguring of the bodies which clearly flags the initial problems the investigation will have. The second major problem, the reaction to the deaths of the public, and even some sectors of the authorities, takes a while longer to reveal itself, but it definitely creates issues for the investigation team.
The team itself, headed by Detective Chief Superintendent Konrad Simonsen develops as an unusual combination of colleague, competitor, boss, subordinate, friends, lovers, possible lovers, enemies and all levels in between. This is a very difficult group to get a handle on, not just because Simonsen is taciturn, flat, dark and quite distant for a fair part of the novel. Even allowing for a mid novel decision that perhaps there's a dry, desiccated sense of humour going on here, this is still a difficult bunch to get to know. Which doesn't help with connection with the storyline.
Because of the motive behind the murders, the terrible and dark secret that the victims have in common, there's a lot about the plot that not serviced well by a narrative that plods and moves forwards in erratic leaps and bounds. Whilst there are stages when things teeter close to a direction, it always seemed to end up meandering. I'm still not 100% sure if that was actually because of the plotting or simply reader disconnection.
Not being the sort of reader that automatically wants to like or sympathise with a novel's protagonist, understanding is more than enough. Achieving that was a struggle no matter how much slack I sought to give this lot. Perhaps Simonsen's loner pretensions, his illness, his taciturn nature was a little too derivative. We all know that in Scandinavian crime fiction it's been done before with considerable panache and in those days originality. Perhaps it's also because the public reaction to these murders, so easily stirred and built by the perpetrator was somehow a little preachy or manipulative of the reader at the same time.
But strangely, and for reasons that I still can't quite put my finger on, finishing the book wasn't a total chore. There is something there, somewhere that's sort of promising, despite THE HANGING not playing out as well as you'd think it should have from the blurb and the hype. Maybe it is a sense of humour that hasn't translated well. Maybe it was that slight feeling of having been there before. Either way, if the series continues, then I'd like to try another book. After the heavy lifting of the team introductions are out of the way, there might be room for a bit more character development and maybe a plot point or two that stay on message.