The Hanging Wood is the fifth entry in the Lake District series of novels by Martin Edwards. This ongoing narrative features two exceptionally attractive protagonists, DCI Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind. Hannah heads up the Cold Case Team for the Cumbria Constabulary. Daniel is an historian, formerly at Oxford; he has also gained a measure of fame as a television personality. When their story begins in The Coffin Trail (one of my all time favorite series openers), Daniel, having suffered a tragedy in his personal life, has turned his back both on celebrity and on Oxford. With his new girlfriend Amanda, he’s relocated to the Lake District in search of a more serene and less complicated way of life. This being a crime fiction series, however, he doesn’t quite achieve that goal.
Hannah is also in a relationship, a long term one. Her partner Marc is a bookstore owner. As it happens, there is a prior link between Daniel and Hannah: Daniel’s father Ben Kind was a policeman in Cumbria and had acted as Hannah’s mentor when she first joined the force. As the series progresses, we perceive that additional forces are working to create a bond between these two complex, deeply interesting yet fundamentally reserved people.
There are two mysteries at the center of The Hanging Wood. One involves a missing fourteen-year-old named Callum Hinds. Callum has not been seen or heard from for twenty years. The decision of Hannah’s boss Lauren Self to re-open the inquiry into his disappearance causes this cold case to land squarely in Hannah’s lap. Meanwhile, Callum’s sister Orla Payne has been conducting her own investigation. Unfortunately, her actions in this matter lead to tragic consequences. Someone has secrets regarding this matter and will clearly stop at nothing to prevent their exposure.
Meanwhile, we learn that Daniel Kind is researching yet another mystery, one that stretches back into the past: “He was writing a study of Thomas De Quincey’s influence upon the history of murder.” ( Thomas De Quincey wrote the essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.”) Daniel is conducting the bulk of his research in St. Herbert’s Residential Library. It so happened that this august institution had also been the scene of Orla Payne’s recent employment.
Here I will pause for a moment to expound briefly on the subject of a residential library. Upon first seeing that locution, I assumed that it referred to a library housed in a larger domicile of some sort. But no: the library and the residence are one in the same, a sort of combined research facility and bed and breakfast.
I was delighted by the notion of such an entity. I had visions of my info-hungry self flying downstairs or through large, spacious hallways in my pajamas and fuzzy slippers toward the stacks in order to verify some point of fact or other.
In his Author’s Note, Martin Edwards informs us that St. Herbert’s as described in the novel does not actually exist. However, there is in North Wales a similar establishment that served as its model: St. Deiniol’s, currently known as Gladstone’s Library at St. Deiniol’s.
I love mysteries that have what I call “added value,” and The Hanging Wood had plenty of that. First, there was the pleasure of discovering the residential library. Then, there’s the encounter with Thomas De Quincey. Finally, there’s the delight of returning to the Lake District, a place of serene beauty which I have not visited for many years. In particular, we get to visit Derwent Water in company with Hannah and Daniel. The latter remarks: “Ruskin said this was one of the three most beautiful scenes in Europe….” It’s not hard to see why:
Be sure and click to enlarge this gorgeous vista.
( Effie is an excellent new book about John Ruskin, Effie Gray, and John Everett Millais. A film is also forthcoming.)
I very much enjoyed The Hanging Wood, and I look forward with happy anticipation to the next book in this fine series. (Click here for a review of the novel just previous to this one, The Serpent Pool. And you might also enjoy, as I did, Waterloo Sunset, which is set in Liverpool and features a different series character, solicitor Harry Devlin.)
I’d like to take this opportunity to remind lovers of crime fiction of Martin Edwards’s terrific blog, Do You Write Under Your Own Name. Here you will find reviews and news of the mystery world. (I especially enjoy the recurring feature called ‘Forgotten Book.’)