How could you do that to your own brother? These words, spoken by Orla Payne, echo throughout the book. Sibling relationships are at the heart of The Hanging Wood, the latest in the Lake District series of mysteries by Martin Edwards, one of my favourite writers of contemporary crime fiction. Twenty years ago, Orla Payne’s teenage brother, Callum Hinds, disappeared. When their Uncle Philip is questioned by the police after his brother names him as a suspect & then commits suicide, the case is quickly wrapped up, even though Callum’s body hadn’t been found & there seemed to be no real motive for Philip to murder his nephew. Philip was a quiet man who enjoyed the visits of his niece & nephew. There was no indication that his interest in them was unnatural.
Orla & Callum’s childhood had already been disrupted by the breakdown of their parents’ marriage. The children lived with their mother, Niamh, who had married Kit Payne. Orla took her stepfather’s surname but Callum never accepted him. Callum stayed in contact with his father, Mike, & often visited his farm. Philip lived nearby in a derelict cottage in a place called the Hanging Wood. The farm & the wood are adjacent to a holiday resort, a very upmarket caravan park, owned by the Madsen brothers, Gareth & Bryan. The madsens are local bigwigs with a lot of local influence. Their generous financial support of police initiatives puts Hannah under extra pressure from her boss to wrap up the investigation quickly.
Also nearby is St Herbert’s, a residential library established by a local landowner. It’s here that Orla Payne, returning to the Lake District after years away, meets Daniel Kind. Daniel is a historian & writer, working on his latest book at the library & Orla tells him that she doesn’t believe her Uncle Philip murdered Callum. Daniel suggests that Orla call DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the Cold Case Review Team at Cumbria Constabulary. Orla’s phone calls to the Team are muddled by alcohol &, when she can’t explain her reasons for her theories about her brother’s disappearance, she hangs up in despair. When she is found dead shortly after, in a grain silo on her father’s farm, Hannah feels compelled to investigate the case further.
Hannah’s investigations stir up old rivalries & motives in a satisfyingly complex plot that had me guessing right to the end. All my guesses were completely wrong of course, that goes without saying! Daniel & Hannah work well together on this investigation. Daniel is able to learn a lot about the Madsen & Hinds families & the tangled relationships of the people in the small community that was touched by Callum’s disappearance. Hannah’s investigation is fuelled by her guilt about Orla’s death & the possibility that it might not have been suicide. What if Orla was right? If Philip wasn’t responsible, the person behind Callum’s disappearance could still be out there.
Apart from the convoluted plots, the reason I love this series is the relationship between Hannah & Daniel. Throughout the series, they have both been in relationships but at the beginning of this book, they’re both single. Daniel has broken up with Miranda & is living with his sister, Louise, while she looks for a place of her own. Hannah has separated from Marc but hasn’t quite been able to make a decisive break. Daniel & Hannah have become good friends but there’s a spark of attraction between them that keeps the reader on tenterhooks. This is a very satisfying book with enough clues & red herrings to keep any mystery lover up half the night to finish it.