The Hanging – Lotte and Soren Hammer

This book was received courtesy of Bloomsbury India in exchange of an honest review

In the past couple of years, Scandinavian crime fiction authors have been (re) discovered by the English-speaking world; the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo being the obvious first name that comes to mind. It was surprising for me to note that all these authors wrote in their native languages and that their works had to be then translated for the rest of us. Most (read almost all) modern authors in India write in English if they wish to be read and taken seriously. Anyhow, since then I have discovered many other writers from the region and have liked them one and all from Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, Erik Larsson to Maj Sjowall. Lotte and Sorren Hammer are a brother and sister team from Denmark and this was the first offering from them that I have read.

A young brother and sister reach school early and discover the mutilated bodies of five men hanging in the gym. Enter Konrad Simonsen and his team of detectives to try and solve this crime. It seems a more than usually difficult task since the identities of the victims are hard to determine considering that their hands and faces have been hacked off with a chainsaw. The story moves slowly and painstakingly through a morass of police procedure and yellow tape towards its inevitable conclusion even as the readers are made aware of the identity of the killers very early in the book.

If you are looking for a quick-fix thriller, then you are in the wrong place. Its almost like following an investigation live, as the detectives work hard to collect evidence and look for links between the murder victims. What is more interesting than the murder mystery is the underlying theme of right and wrong, public outrage, vigilantism and revenge. Very soon in the story it becomes known that the murdered men were all paedophiles. This presents a moral dilemma for both the people in the book and the reader. The authors have shown the Dane police force as being highly moral and incorruptible. Even as the rest of the country is up in arms in defence of those who may have been the murderers of these monsters, the police stick to the belief that since a murder has been committed the fact that these men were criminals or child molesters is besides the point, and that the perpetrators must be brought to justice. Tough call that.

The book presents an interesting conundrum. I have to say that I was with the Danish public on this one on moral sides. I was also extremely surprised to find that according to the book, crimes against children drew a lesser prison sentence that those against adults in Denmark. Somehow, the West has always appeared so advanced in matters such as these that it was hard to imagine that there is a country that actually distinguishes between the rape of a minor and of an adult in such an impractical, not to say completely insensitive, way.

The book can get slow and at times meandering, but the basic premise of the story is solid. Simonsen and his team are good characters and even if the Nordic humor is a little difficult to understand and tends towards the dark side, it works very well with the overall picture. As for all Scandinavian crime fiction some essence of the book always seems to be lost in translation. It is not so severe in this book but one can feel it all the same. The story is more inclined towards ‘thought-provoking’ than ‘sensational thrilling’ and does take some getting used to. It does require patience to finish the book but I did like it and I can understand it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea.

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