Today I have my thoughts on “The Hanging Women” by John Mead as part of the blog tour by Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources. My thanks to Rachel for my spot and to John for my e-copy of the book. you can purchase from Amazon UK.
A historical crime thriller set in 1886 Chicago; the power house of America, a sink of corruption and vice which is haunted by riots and gangland killings. A story of weak men and strong women.
Jack Stevens discovers the bodies of two women, Philomena Blackstaff and Mary Walsh, tied together and hung by their ankles in a position resembling the symbol for treachery as depicted on tarot cards. Though retired and now wealthy, Stevens is an ex-sheriff and involves himself in the subsequent investigation.
As a result of Jack `stealing’ Philomena’s diary and his association with the Pinkerton detective agency, it is discovered that Mary Walsh worked undercover for the Pinkertons, investigating the Knights of Labour (the fastest growing workers’ rights movements in America of the late 1800’s). The women had been working together, tracing the man who was selling guns and dynamite to the more extremest factions of the workers movement. This led them to Ruby’s, a secret `nightclub for deviants’, where Stevens and Inspector O’Leary believe the pair fell foul of the man they were looking for, gang leader Joseph Mannheim.
With the May 4th Haymarket riots and bombings looming, Stevens must uncover the truth about The Hanging Women before it’s too late.
The synopsis for this book is quite detailed and I did find it useful when I felt the need to refer back to it on a couple of occasions as I read the book. The story itself is quite busy in relation to the plot lines and characters. There are several subplots that are seemingly unrelated to the investigation into the hanging women.
Jack Stevens is the main character and seems to have a limitless array of friends or associates and I did really like this whiskey drinking investigator as he wandered the 1880’s streets and alleys of Chicago. Told in chapters set out day by day I found myself reading of his investigations and other “activities”as well as learning of his wife Martha. I did like this couple and their antics though I did get confused trying to remember all the other characters they meet along the way, hence the need to return to the synopsis.
The subplots take in the Pinkertons, gangs, workers movements, murder, robbery and back street deals as well as a few other things. Some of the threads I really enjoyed and though I didn’t initially understand the relevance of all of them until the author started to the individual threads together towards the end.
Once I got into the story I felt it moved along at a reasonable pace, though I was slower at the beginning until I felt I had got a grip on it. As I mentioned previously it is a very busy story with lots of things happening and I did struggle initially but I did feel that my comprehension of the book picked up as I got further into it and especially as things were being pulled together. I would recommend this to a historical crime reader who prefers a more complex multi-thread read.
About the Author:
John was born in the mid-fifties in Dagenham, London, on part of the largest council estate ever built, and was the first pupil from his local secondary modern school to attend university. He has now taken early retirement to write, having spent the first part of his life working in education and the public sector. He was the director of a college, a senior school inspector for a local authority, and was head of a unit for young people with physical and mental health needs. When he is not travelling, going to the theatre or the pub, he writes.
His inspiration for his debut novel came whilst attending a lecture in Denver about the history of the American midwest, describing a time and place that was very different from that espoused by popular culture, which started him thinking this would make a excellent period in which to set a crime story.
His book describes how Chicago was a prototype of much that we consider both good and bad in the current age, it had a vibrancy and decadence that allowed a few enterprising individuals to prosper whilst violence and intolerance held back many others. The situation for some African Americans and women was improving but it was still a time when to be anything other than white and male made you a second class citizen. The city was the manufacturing and transport hub of America, the vast influx of immigrants swelling its already booming population brought great wealth but also corruption and criminality. The midwest and Chicago typified a way of life, the ‘gun culture’ which is a euphemism for individualism, from which much of modern American social values have grown.
John is currently working on a trilogy of novels set in modern day London. These police procedurals examine the darker side of modern life in the East End of the city: a Whitechapel noir.
Follow the tour to see what others think
Many thanks for reading my post, a share or like would be amazing 🙂 xx