The Hanging Wood

‘Martin Edwards writes the kind of whodunnits too often labelled, utterly unfairly, old-fashioned – because they do not contain meticulous descriptions of bloodshed, rampant psychopaths or emotionally tormented coppers. The Hanging Wood is the fifth in his Lake District series. A woman whose brother disappeared 20 years ago, when she was seven, tries to persuade the police that their uncle, generally believed to have killed him, is innocent. No one takes seriously. Two days after her final plea, she is found suffocated in a grain silo on her family’s farm. Other deaths follow. The main police character, Hannah Scarlett, head of the cold cases section, is appealingly normal; killings take place off-stage; there are many suspects; characters are drawn with insight. A lovely read. 

Marcel Berlins, The Times

‘An excellent example of the the traditonal British whodunnit…The story has all the ingredients:an attractive setting, a dysfunctional posh family and ingenious murder methods, with the violence taking place off-stage. Interesting and enjoyable.’ 

Jessica Mann, The Literary Review

‘When 14-year-old Callum Hinds goes missing in England’s Lake District, everyone suspects his uncle, who, unable to stand the pressure, commits suicide. Twenty years later Callum’s sister raises doubts about her uncle’s guilt, but no one listens. Then she falls into a grain silo and suffocates. DCI Hanna Scarlett, head of Cumbria’s Cold Case Review Team, begins an investigation that leads to more deaths and an unexpected ending. Edwards’s fifth series title (after The Serpent Pool) builds suspense while capturing its characters’ rage, anguish, and resentment that complicate the investigation and intensify the danger for all involved. VERDICT: With an unforgettable ending, this outstanding cold case will attract Lynda La Plante and Mo Hayder fans.’ 

Library Journal (starred review)

‘Full of twists and turns and some sinister (and very dangerous) secrets. The beauty, however, of Martin’s books is that they are not just page-turning thrillers – they also give us believable and very human characters mixed up in the plotting (and with the Marvellous Lake District scenery as an atmospheric backdrop); Martin Edwards hits top form again here – this is a superb, sytlishly crafted novel.’ 

Brian Page, Mensa Magazine

‘The Hanging Wood does not feature gunplay or chase scenes. Don’t be misled, though. There is quietly depicted horror, both psychological and physical, that you will remember long after the excesses of the typical action thriller have faded. To sum up, if you are looking for a literate, beautifully written mystery in the classic style, the sort of thing that seems hard to come by these days, treat yourself to The Hanging Wood.’ 

Eric Mayer’s Byzantine blog

‘Reliable Lake District family intrigue from a seasoned pro.’ 

Kirkus Reviews

‘Martin Edwards’s Lake District mysteries can usually be relied on to have a bookish theme, and THE HANGING WOOD is no exception. Historian Daniel Kind is continuing his research on his book about de Quincy at St Herbert’s private residential library near Keswick in the north of the region. He does not get much work done, though, because one of the women who works there and whom Daniel has befriended is distraught when she thinks her brother, missing presumed dead 17 years ago, is still alive. Daniel recommends that she contacts DCI Hannah Scarlett of the “cold case” squad, but before much else happens, disaster strikes. Hannah and her new sergeant are assigned the job of looking into the boy’s disappearance, interviewing his irascible father on his farm, and uncovering a tangled web of family relationships. These relationships extend to the library also. Fleur Masden is a local heiress who is not only a trustee of the library but who married the owner of a caravan park adjoining her family pile and is now having it converted into a more luxurious expansion of the park. Her niece “Sham” (short for Chamois) works at the library as does a strange character called Aslan who clearly has some relationship to the tragic family as well as an interest in Sham and her sister Purdey. (This is a book where characters have strange names, for example Fleur’s deceased brother was called Jolyon as their parents liked The Forsyte Saga.) Hannah pursues her investigation and Daniel digs into the odd relationships and tensions between the families involved in the boy’s disappearance and an apparent suicide. Eventually, another death leads both Hannah and Daniel to suspect what has really been going on in the past, and why people are dying now. Of course, there is a “will they won’t they?” element to the story of Daniel and Hannah: in this novel Hannah is ambivalent about her ex-partner Marc from whom she split up six months ago, as well as her ongoing feelings for Daniel and some new ones for her sergeant, who is not the sexist bore that his previous reputation had suggested. This novel is well up to the standards of the series, as well as providing plenty of descriptions of this particularly beautiful part of the Lake District in north-west England. It is a traditional mystery that will be much enjoyed by anyone who likes a good, solid read with sympathetic characters and a literary theme.’ 

Maxine Clarke, Eurocrime

‘One of Edwards’ strengths as a writer is his ability to quickly draw the reader in to the worlds he creates, making you feel as if you are part of the things and observing the shenanigans from a close vantage point. He achieves this through thoughtful character depictions and just the right amount of detail about the local environment, events and people. Each time I return to Martin Edwards’ Lake District (this is my fourth visit) I feel like I’m coming back to a place I know (helped along in this instance by the inclusion of a small map which I very much appreciated and would like to see more of). Another of the enjoyable features of this series is that there’s a nice balance between old and new characters. Of course there are the two long-running series protagonists in DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind but there are always lots of new characters to meet in depth for each new story. Most of the players in this particular drama belong to one of two prominent families in the area and the reader is soon gripped by their various connections and shared histories. Because Hannah and Daniel don’t have to carry the entire narrative Edwards has been able to tease out their personalities and foibles over time. Even here, five books into the series, we learn new things about each one which is a boon for fans of the series (for those wondering about the hint of romance between the two glimpsed in previous novels you’ll have to read for yourselves to find out if there is any progress). The story here is first rate too, both intriguing and credible. It relies on a careful unravelling of the layers of small (and not-so-small) deceits that the characters have told about themselves (or to themselves) over time. Of course all the characters have engaged in this behaviour, not just the criminally inclined, because it’s natural for humans to re-invent themselves via the stories and events from their pasts that they choose to share in their present. Sometimes it’s nothing more than cutting out the boring bits of one’s life story and sometimes it’s a little more sinister but we all do it and Edwards has depicted it very intelligently and believably here. There were several points at which I had that smug ‘oh I’ve worked this bit out’ feeling only to realise it was a minor tangent to the main story or, worse, to have an unpredicted twist foil my puzzle solving attempts. Some crime fiction always feels like fiction but with The Hanging Wood I wouldn’t have taken much convincing this was a true story unfolding. There’s not a single thing that couldn’t easily happen in the real world, from Orla’s grim death (my parents used to scare us with stories of just such a death when we visited our farming relatives each summer) to the events which were ultimately uncovered in connection with Callum’s disappearance. The Hanging Wood maintains the high standard of its predecessors in offering a classy, thoughtful and engaging story that is clearly a cut above the average in the crowded space of British police procedurals. 

Reactions to Reading blog

I always look forward with some anticipation to reading the next instalment in Martin Edwards’ Lake District series with DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind, and THE HANGING WOOD did not disappoint. While part of a continuing series THE HANGING WOOD works quite well as a stand alone if this is your first opportunity to read a title by this accomplished British author. I’m sure it will however send you looking for earlier titles.

Even if the murders in the story are terrible, the book is free from wild chasing, violent shooting or violent fights, and this makes the reading very enjoyable. The main focus is more on the description of the atmosphere, the persons acting and milieu and why thing happens. Very skilfully Edwards has given the reader some red herrings. He fooled me a couple of times. Skillful indeed! 

Iwan Morelius, Dast Magazine, Sweden

A satisfying read that explores both whodunnit and whydunnit issues.’ 

Mysteries in Paradise blog

‘The Hanging Wood is Martin Edwards’s 5th Lake District Mystery. I’ve enjoyed all of them and this is no exception. Historian Daniel Kind is carrying out research at St Herbert’s Residential Library where Orla Payne works. She is obsessed by the disappearance of her brother Callum, twenty years earlier when he was a teenager and she was a child of seven. When her uncle was found dead in Hanging Wood, the police assumed he had committed suicide after killing Callum, even though his body was never found. Daniel encourages Orla to speak to DCI Hannah Scarlet, who heads the Cold Case Review Team at Cumbria Constabulary about her brother’s disappearance. However, a drunken Orla fails to convince Hannah to reopen the case and it is only after Orla’s death that the police decide to review Callum’s disappearance. As Hannah tries to discover what happened to Callum, she begins to think their deaths are connected and were not accidental or suicide. I really enjoyed this book, with its interesting characters and atmospheric Lake District setting. The Hanging Wood itself with its towering wych elms, rowan, ash and oak trees, and old paths obscured by grass, heather and brambles is not a pleasant place. The case is intriguing and cleverly constructed. I thought I’d worked it out and I did, but only after several red herrings threw me off track for a while. I like the mix of cold and new cases, the sense of history and the characterisation – a most satisfying read. 

Books Please blog

‘I really enjoy Edwards’ Lake District books. While they may not have the same grittiness as those set inLiverpool, neither do they ever pretend that the Lake District is simply a chocolate box location. The farm that provides much of the setting for this book is clearly a place where those who live struggle for survival; it is also a place where there is constant potential for danger, either accidental or premeditated. ..If you enjoy a good crime thriller along the lines of those written by Peter Robinson and Reginald Hill then I’m pretty sure you will enjoy Edwards.’ 

Senior Common Room blog

‘The latest Lake District police procedural (see The Serpent Pool) is an exciting past and present investigative thriller.’ 

Genre Go Round