Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Hanging Club.
Parsons’ thriller The Hanging Club is inspired by the current of popular opinion regarding the legal system’s habitual protection of criminal rights in courts that too often subvert justice in lieu of victims’ relief. Too often criminals accused of heinous acts either receive lighter sentences or are acquitted, especially when defended by lawyers well-versed in manipulating the system on a client’s behalf. But those in law enforcement, like London’s Detective Max Wolfe, know that upholding the rule of law is critical in a civilized society, even when enforcement is unpopular.
The whole city is shocked by a streaming video posted online: the hanging of an infamous criminal who has escaped justice at trial.
The event is the opening salvo in a series of such outrageous scenes, each carried out by a masked group of vigilantes in a secluded and darkened room. The Homicide and Serious Crime Command is focused only on finding the gang of masked killers and putting a stop to the hangings. The problems they face are manifold: unidentified men gathering in an unknown location, their actions viewed by a wide audience on social media, a growing number of fans supporting this particular type of redress. There are no clues about the room where the hangings take place, no way to identify the masked vigilantes who kidnap the selected victims, from perpetrators of sex crimes, drug lords and other infamous incidents that have outraged a public already angry about the system’s inability to meet out appropriate punishment to the guilty. There is, indeed, a fragile line between “good and evil, innocence and guilt, justice and retribution.”
A single father raising a child on his own, Max Wolfe is a sympathetic protagonist, intent on bringing this wave of vigilantism to an end as, one after another, criminals become examples of outrage and a demand for retribution. Leading the investigation after his superior is sidelined by a personal tragedy, Wolfe uses all his resources, all his detectives, plus the insights of a history professor, a specialist in voice recognition and modern technology, to locate the place of execution. London
is rife with centuries of architectural innovation and constant rebuilding, ancient tunnels threading through each new spate of renovation. The dramatic videos displaying the men’s terror before hanging are reminiscent of ancient tribunals, a culture steeped in history providing eerily appropriate retribution for society’s failures.
The theme is relevant to the current dissatisfaction with the application of justice in criminal courts. In the course of his investigation and under increasing pressure to locate the vigilantes, Wolfe runs across a number of people who confess to admiring the actions of the masked vigilantes, a satisfactory panacea for the suffering of victims who find no relief in the courts, no closure, only the bitter reality of unremitting pain. The case becomes personally dangerous after Wolfe begins to interfere with the righteous work of The Hanging Club, whether in the squalid London backstreets where religious fanaticism breeds, the homes of mourning families, or the secret rooms where the powerful meet to make decisions.
The novel begins with the shocking video of the hanging that spreads quickly over social media, one murder following another as Wolfe’s team tries to anticipate the next target. Max suddenly
becomes the face of law enforcement standing in the way of justice. He walks an uncertain terrain, a recent joyful meeting with an old friend creating a moral conundrum for the detective in an already compromised situation. The characters are complex and realistic in a contemporary world where the boundary between good and evil is disturbingly fluid. The drama accelerates with each new phase of the investigation, Wolfe pursuing popular suspects in an era of moral ambiguity, an excellent portrayal of an ancient city beleaguered by demands for justice in the face of outrage.