By Sarah Naughton
Published by Simon & Schuster
Sarah Naughton's first novel, The Hanged Man Rises, is a tense thriller set in Victorian London - a favourite background for writers with a dark and creepy story to tell. The fog-filled alleys, sputtering gas lamps, sinister figures lurking on street corners and squalid slums of the British capital feature in countless novels, but Naughton is confident of her setting and uses it well.
London is in the grip of The Wigman, a ruthless murderer who cuts a lock of hair from the heads of his victims as a macabre souvenir. As the killer stalks his latest quarry in the opening chapter, Naughton pushes readers to the edge of their seats with her atmospheric writing and focused storytelling.
Fifteen-year-old Titus Adams has heard stories about The Wigman, but he thinks they are just that - stories. He has more important things to worry about than listening to old wives' tales about a shadowy serial killer. His parents are drunkards, the family is having problems paying the rent, and he has his younger sister to care for.
London in the late 1800s is an unforgiving place, and Titus is struggling to keep both himself and his sister living on the right side of the law. It would be easy to drift into petty crime to secure the money needed for the family's next meal, but Titus sticks to his own honourable code of conduct.
After his parents are killed in a fire, Titus gets a job at the local police station, so he can earn enough money to stay out of the workhouse. He comes in as the station is buzzing over The Wigman's arrest, after which he is hanged. London is safe ... but not for long.
The murders start again, and Titus is caught up in the new wave of killings - and then he starts to guess the identity of the murderer.
There is mayhem and mystery on every page. The historical detail in the book is well-researched and comes alive, yet never gets in the way of the inventive and unnerving plot. Titus is an engaging central character - brave, loyal and bright; an unassuming hero who is easy to root for. His creator knows him well and presents him with total credibility and understanding.
Hanged Man is a very impressive debut, one that lassoes the reader with its first thrilling chapter and won't release you until the mystery is solved.
Or is it? You'll have to muster all your courage and venture into the sinister streets of Victorian London to find out. Be careful!
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com