The Hanging Girl

The Hanging Girl was written by Eileen Cook and first published in 2017. It is a mystery novel which follows a teenage girl who becomes entangled in the disappearance of one of her schoolmates. The story stands alone, so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Skye Thorn is in trouble. Her friend Drew has been busy planning a future which involves the two girls moving to New York to study together. Skye knows that she could never hope to afford the rent, but has been too embarrassed to bring this to Drew’s attention. Trouble is, now graduation day is looming closer and Skye knows that she has left it far too long to tell the truth.

Her desperation pushes her to take drastic measures to raise the money. Skye has always had a talent for reading people, playing this to great advantage while doing tarot readings for her schoolmates. However, she takes this a step further when she becomes involved in shady Pluto and his kidnapping scheme. The plan is simple. Pluto kidnaps Skye’s classmate, Paige, and sends the ransom demand to her wealthy father. Skye uses her insider information to fake psychic visions that lead the police to where Paige is being kept. Unfortunately, things go horribly wrong.

Skye’s mother is quick to cash in on the tragedy, claiming that she has also had psychic visions that cause the police to start to doubt the validity Skye’s. As Skye struggles to retain control of the situation, things take a sudden dark turn and she realises that all of the blame for the kidnapping could be easily pinned on her. Skye needs to gain the upper hand and quickly. The true perpetrators are dangerous, and Skye must use all of her cunning if she is to keep her neck out of the noose…

Before I begin this review, I feel that I should make clear that this is not a horror novel. This actually came as somewhat of a surprise to me. Based on the blurb, cover and title, I really was expecting this to be a supernatural story. While there were a couple of points where it felt as though it could turn that way, I would describe this book as more of a thriller or mystery. If you’re coming into this expecting psychics and things that go bump in the night, you will be disappointed.

I should also warn you that this book does contain some pretty dark material that some readers may find distressing. While it’s not graphic, there is certainly scenes of implied violence and rape. If you’re sensitive to these themes, you might want to give this book a miss. You have been warned.

The Hanging Girl is a really difficult novel to review as I think that it’s one of those stories that readers will either love or hate. The plot is certainly full of twists and I can’t really talk about it too much for fear of spoilers, but I will say that it certainly keeps the reader guessing. However, some of these twists are stronger than others.

The first major twist actually comes about a third of the way through the story and completely took me by surprise, but the book certainly suffered from diminishing returns after this. The final twist of the story felt especially forced and contradicted some of the evidence that Skye had discovered previously.

While the novel was generally well written, I did think that sometimes the author didn’t explain herself quite well enough. For example, the reveal of Pluto’s true identity was so abrupt that I had to read the passage a few times to understand exactly what happened. There were also some instances where Skye would do something quite random which would not be explained for a long time. Early in the novel, we see her leave a note in the pages of an encyclopaedia in the library but the reason why she did this was not immediately clear. I felt that sometimes, the story could have done with a little more clarity. While everything is eventually explained, I did sometimes find myself feeling a little lost.

However, I did like the way that the novel portrayed Skye’s gift, as she used her ability to read people to fake psychic premonitions. It was a really clever idea that clearly illustrated how a person can manipulate others by reading their body language. Yet I did wish that the tarot reading played more of a role in the story. Surprisingly, Skye’s fortune telling is only really significant at the start and end of the novel. This was a bit of a shame, as I personally felt that it could have been used to a greater purpose to add further underline the mystery elements, especially as all of the cards can hold multiple different meanings.

The conclusion of The Hanging Girl, personally, wasn’t to my taste. That’s not to say that it was bad. I can totally see how it would work for some readers but I found it to be a bit unsatisfying. Again, no spoilers here, but when Skye came to her climatic crossroads, I think I would have preferred it if she’d taken the opposite path. Own opinion, I know, but I just felt that her decision flew in the face of her previous character development, especially given her anxiety issues.

On the subject of characterisation, I did get really attached to Skye. I found her to be a very realistic and well-rounded character. While her situation was extreme, it was easy to understand how she’d gotten herself into such a desperate situation, as well as how her naivety had caused it to get so far out of hand. Despite the fact that she made a lot of daft mistakes, she was generally a very likeable protagonist and I didn’t want any harm to come to her. My only issue was that she felt a bit young. I didn’t realise at first that she was supposed to be eighteen as she felt a tad too prudish.

However, my biggest issue with the story was its supporting cast. Everything that we found out about Paige came through exposition and so I never formed a connection with her. Similarly, characters like Drew and Ryan were never really fleshed out. They appeared once or twice in their roles of best friend and Paige’s ex-boyfriend respectively, usually to impart certain key bit of information on Skye, but that was really it. Ultimately, they did not have a enough to do within the story.

Anyhow, I don’t want to say anything more for fear of spoiling the mystery for you. The Hanging Girl was not perfect but I did find it to be an engaging read, with a strong protagonist and some interesting twists. I look forward to reading more by this author in the future.

The Hanging Girl can be purchased as a Paperback and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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