Book Review: The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Series: Book 1 of Her Majesty’s Psychic Service
Publisher: Tor (May 19, 2015)
Author Information: Website | Twitter
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
I have a weakness for gaslight paranormal fantasy and lady detectives, so when presented with P.N. Elrod’s The Hanged Man I found I could hardly resist this delectable mystery set in alternate historical England with shades of the Victorian era.
The book begins on a cold and dreary Christmas Eve in 1897, and Alexandrina Victoria Pendlebury of Her Majesty’s Psychic Service is called out to a house on Baker Street to do a forensic reading of a scene of questionable death. A man has hung himself, but by using her abilities to pick up on emotional traces left behind, Alex is able to rule out a suicide. And indeed, later they find the evidence that someone broke into the house, drugged the hapless victim and strung him up to make it look like he killed himself. What’s even more disturbing to Alex is the emotional signature left behind by the perpetrator…or rather, the lack of one. Whoever (or whatever) committed this murder, they did it without feeling anything at all.
Then the identity of the hanged man is revealed and Alex’s world comes crashing down around her. This opens up a whole new set of questions, deeply personal ones that fill her with doubt as she struggles to keep her mind on the investigation. Her superiors remove her from the case, but Alex is determined to follow up on leads even if it means setting out on her own. Luckily, she’s not completely alone; newly recruited Lieutenant Brooks may be green but he’s behind Alex all the way, and Alex also has family to rely on, even if it’s her slightly insane cousin James. There are assassins and dark magic afoot, and both Scotland Yard and the Psychic Service are going to need all the help they can get.
I’ve read a lot of books that take place in this historical time period, but more uncommon are the authors who can write convincingly enough to make me believe we’re really there. It says a lot that The Hanged Man grabbed me right away with its impressively rich prose, plunging me into its setting. I’ve actually never read anything by P.N. Elrod before this, but looks like I’ve been missing out, give me more! Her writing really shines here; not only is the language deeply immersive, it also exudes an atmosphere of magic and mystery – perfect for an evocative tale such as this. The dialogue is well-written too, and I was amazed at the variety of voices. The author uses period jargon and unique speech patterns to make all her characters stand out, whether it’s the main protagonist Alex or a side character like Police Inspector Lennon. There will be no skimming this book because you’ll want to slow down and soak up every word and expression.
Then there’s the story. I knew this book was going to be a mystery when I first picked it up, but I think I expected a slower take-off followed by a gradual unraveling of the case’s clues and intricacies. What I got instead was a bombshell dropped on my head at the end of the very first chapter, and before I could even recover from the shock, we’re whisked away on a horse carriage race through the streets in a shower of gunfire. It is almost impossible to review this book without revealing any spoilers, because there’s just no end to the twists and turns. For a book that’s written so evenly and this tightly plotted, I was surprised at how often it had me on the edge of my seat. We got to slow down a bit in the middle, enough to let me catch my breath, but then the ending had me reeling again. There’s no cliffhanger, but one last revelation before the book closes struck me like a punch in the gut and had me feeling no small amount of sympathy for Alex. This entire story was deftly told, leaving me a very happy reader by the time it was all done.
I know I’m often bemoaning that all books these days seem to be part of a series, but in this case I’m actually hoping there will be more installments. The Hanged Man reads perfectly well as a standalone, but there’s still a lot left to ponder. Just what kind of secrets are the top men at Her Majesty’s Psychic Service hiding? I’d also love to get more background on the organization and its people. It appears that Alex and her Reader skills are just the beginning, seeing as the Service also employs Seers and Precogs and what sounds to me like a considerable R&D department. With all this supernatural talent flying around, I imagine there’s quite a bit of potential for future novels. And last but not least, I think Alex and Lieutenant Brooks have a good thing going here, and it would be interesting to watch their romance (which is just in the first stages of blooming here) develop into something more.
I anticipated that I would really like The Hanged Man, I just didn’t know it would be this much. A blend of Urban Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Mystery and Romance all rolled into one, it’s sure to appeal to readers with a palate for bold twists and magical intrigue. The writing is simply wonderful, with P.N. Elrod’s prose bringing the period to life in a very expressive and authentic way. The story and characters are very well developed, and if I ever get the chance to catch up with Alex, Brooks, James and the other people in this world again, I know I won’t hesitate.
It does sound like a nice blend
A great blend – very atmospheric and fun.
I skipped a bit your review because I asked for it and I really hope I’ll have it soon because seeing your rating it sounds so good, well it sounded good so I’m glad it’s the case!
I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!
Wow 4 1/2 stars! High praise from you:-) I’m so excited that I have a copy of this, I think it will be my next read. I know P.N. Elrod has been writing for a long time, which is probably one reason it’s so well written.
Yeah, I’d seen her massive bibliography, I’ve been missing out all this time! I’m so glad I finally got to read a book by her 🙂
Color me gobsmacked.
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You’re welcome! Thank YOU for the great read 🙂
This book seems to be pushing the envelope of its genre(s), so I can hardly wait to add it to my list! Thanks for sharing this deep and insightful review 🙂
Sounds great! And a really interesting mix of genres! 🙂
Thanks for the review. I was worried about buying it because of the price point, but with your review it lets me know that it is worth it!
Well! This must be the most enthusiastic review I’ve read in a while 🙂 You make it sound so interesting! A quick question: is it scary? From the title alone, I’d *never* pick it up – I’m a total chicken when it comes to scary books/movies and I do my best to avoid them completely.
You are so right, I really felt like this was authentic. Excited we were so in sync on this one. I ache for more. It was also my first P.N. Elrod book, tho I think I read a short story collection edited by her.
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Im very curious about this book, but I’ve struggled to like Elrod’s writing in the past.
Interesting – just recently read the review on Bibliotropic and saw your comment. I missed your review of this because I think I was away.
Now I’m in a quandry, I admit that I saw this on Netgalley but decided against it because I’ve been disappointed by a couple of similar sounding books recently but your review sounds good. I like a book that can immerse me – particularly in this time frame. I’ll have to make a note, I know Ria had issues with the pacing and thought the romance was a bit bland – still, language that is ‘deeply immersive’ – sounds good – see, quandry!
Yeah, this one worked really well for me. Loved the atmosphere and the language, which really put me into the time and place, and that’s rare for a lot of period/historical fantasy books 🙂