Devoured in one sitting is an exaggeration but HANGMAN is certainly an accomplished and compulsive thriller that kept my appetite to return to its banquet of kidnapping and bloody murder.
Richer than Reacher, HANGMAN’s protagonist is a literary kin to Hannibal Lecter, but without the sophistication of sourcing, saucing and sauteing.
The cannibal mind in civilised society is a clear one, sharp as a sous chef’s shiv, if popular fiction is to be believed. At any rate, I’m prepared to suspend my disbelief when I’m kept in suspense as adroitly as author Jack Heath maintains.
Packed with wincingly convincing detail, HANGMAN is the irresistibly and mercilessly readable tale of Timothy Blake, whose unique powers of observation and deduction make him a valuable asset to the FBI’s Houston field office. Blake doesn’t get paid for his services but is rewarded in an unutterably unique manner.
Houston being housed in the state of Texas is statute to capital punishment and executed prisoners are delivered to Blake like dinner on a plate. So for every life he saves, he receives a state sanctioned cadaver to feed his craving.
Awful and unlawful – by rights he should swing for his supper – the trade seems quite equatable with Blake’s Bureau controller, Peter Luzhin, who keeps the arrangement off the books, his secret anthropophagus cum shamus. Blake’s current case is a kidnapping that includes a kidney removal as part of the ransom.
Monstrous and gruesome, the case makes Blake muse,“Children fear that monsters exist. Adults fear that they don’t – that the world is just a jigsaw of screwed-up people with good qualities as well as bad”.
Teamed with a female FBI agent called Thistle, a thorn in his side to begin with, Blake’s investigation spirals from a seemingly straight forward procedural with a side bar in nephrectomy into a far more nefarious multi faceted crime caper concerning criminal queen pins, suburban incest, and flashes of flesh eating frenzy.
Fizzing with fully fledged frights filled with flights and fights, Heath tightens the torment of the flesh fetishist hero by having him fall for Thistle, with whom, they discover, share a distant past. “Thistle and I had the same start in life -rescued by police from the clutches of our dead parents. But she’s become a smart, tough FBI agent ….I’m a poor, unemployed cannibal…Where did I go wrong?”
Heath draws a quantum of sympathy for his protagonist despite his addiction, giving him an objective perception of his predicament, describing himself as a “A seashell being dragged around by the ravenous crab inside.”
Blake’s predilection is stomach churning, however Heath has created a character the reader cares for, an incorrigible but courageous cannibal, self aware of his affliction, careful not to cause infliction.
Pace and plotting is impressive; HANGMAN literally tingles with tension, and Heath injects a healthy dose of dark humour.
If a pound of guilt is worth an ounce of lust, HANGMAN constitutes a weighty guilty pleasure.
HANGMAN by Jack Heath is published by Allen & Unwin.