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THE HANGING CLUB by Tony Parsons: Book Review

Vigilante justice–what does it mean to you?  The dictionary definition is easy to understand:  a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the process of law is viewed as inadequate); broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice.  We can’t allow people to take the law into their own hands, can we?  But what happens when the official justice system fails its victims?

The prologue of The Hanging Club opens with Mahmud Irani returning to his taxi after Friday prayers.  He’s hailed by a man who gets into the cab and uses his iPhone to direct Mahmud to his desired destination:  Newgate Street.  As they arrive there, the man leans forward from the back seat and presses an old-fashioned straight razor against the driver’s eye.  The car stops, the two men get out, and the passenger directs the driver into a building where three others are waiting.

Mahmud is forced onto a stool that is directly underneath a noose hanging from the ceiling.  Covering the walls of the room are dozens of photos of schoolgirls, all smiling.  Mahmud recognizes them as young girls who had been abducted and raped by himself and his friends.  As he tries to explain that these girls were whores, asking for what happened to them, the stool is kicked from beneath him, he experiences excruciating pain, and he dies.  But he’s only the first.

The opening sentence of the novel is perfect:  “We sat in Court One of the Old Bailey and we waited for justice.”  But they don’t get it.

Steve Goddard was a husband and father.  When he saw three teenage boys urinating on his wife’s car, he ran out of his house and attempted to stop them.  The three boys kicked him to the ground and kept kicking him until he was dead.  They urinated on him and laughed, and all the while one of the boys was filming this; it was almost immediately posted online.  There is no question as to who had committed the crime.

Although the jury is unanimous in its guilty verdict, the judge said the defendants’ attorney proved mitigating circumstances, which reduced the charge to manslaughter.  So for kicking a man to death, the three are sentenced to twelve months in prison.  The remaining Goddards, the mother and her two children, are left weeping and bewildered at the Crown’s version of justice.

Max Wolfe, the detective who arrested the three boys, knows there is nothing more to be done.  But that doesn’t mean he can forget about the case, the injustice of it.  Later that same day the video of the taxi driver being hanged goes viral, and the police in the Major Incident Room watch it.  After watching it multiple times, a new recruit says, “But who’d want to do that to him?”  And unconsciously, almost against his will, Max thinks, “Who the hell wouldn’t?”

Tony Parsons has written about a topic that resonates today.  What is our reaction when we think a truly heinous crime has been committed but not punished sufficiently, if at all? The Hanging Club is a remarkable thriller, not only because it’s so well written but because it brings up a subject that touches so many lives.  Does justice always prevail?  Can vengeance ever be right?  And what is motivating the vigilantes–vengeance, revenge, or bloodlust?

You can read more about Tony Parsons at various sites on the internet.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.


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