by Ben Aaronovitch



400pp/£14.99/November 2016

The Hanging Tree

Patrick Knowles

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Ben Aaronovitch's The Hanging Tree opens with a simple case of an accidental drug-induced death at a party, hardly the sort of case Peter Grant and the Folly would get involved in. However, when Lady Tyburn summons him because her daughter may have been at the party with the death occurred, Grant does, reluctantly become involved and the case takes on aspects that are far ranging and important for the Folly.

Grant gets dragged into the case because Tyburn wants to make sure her daughter, Olivia, is protected during the police investigation. Grant's job becomes more difficult when Olivia confesses to having provided the drugs that led to the overdose, although Grant is convinced that she is covering for someone else. Tracking down other leads, Grant discovers the dead girl's father, Martin Chorley, may have a tie to the Little Crocodiles, the magicians who have ties to the Faceless Man. He also finds himself facing off with the Virginia Gentlemen, a sort of American version of the Folly mixed with a soldier of fortune mentality, and Helena Linden-Limmer, the latest in a long line of witches who is racing the Folly to purchase a lost book by Isaac Newton.

While the spectre of the Faceless Man has hovered over the last several novels in the series, he has rarely made a direct appearance, usually appearing or acting through Leslie May as an intermediary. Grant's investigation in The Hanging Tree takes an odd turn and he finds himself face to face with the Faceless Man once again, but this time he has the support of Nightingale and other allies from the Folly. More importantly, the Faceless Man now has a name.

Aaronovitch has a lot to juggle in this volume, with potential new alliances between the Folly and Lady Helena, the unknown threat offered by the Virginia Gentlemen (and a reappearance of American FBI agent Kimberly Reynolds), the original crime, and the expansion of both the world of magicians and the demi-monde they move in with the appearance of the vulpine Reynard Fossman. Unfortunately, there are times that Aaronovich drops the ball and the interactions between the different factions appears to be unintentionally muddied.

The stakes are high throughout the novel, Aaronovitch also incorporates his trademark humor with numerous references to British science fictional pop culture, from the works of Douglas Adams to Doctor Who. The humor isn't intrusive, but does add pleasant moments that break up the complexity of the action without being intrusive.

While the individual moments in the novel may not always flow as smoothly as might be desired, Aaronovitch expands the background of the world quite a bit in The Handing Tree and moves the overarching story forward after a relatively long pause, giving the book a greater impact than if it had just been focused on the case of the moment. The trade-off of having a book that seems to have gotten a little beyond Aaronovitch's control with one that provides so much information and moves the story of the Faceless Man forward seems to be worthwhile.

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