Hangman (Detective William Fawkes #2), by Daniel Cole

Seven stars

Daniel Cole is back to continue his thriller series that had readers gasping at the cliffhanger ending. Riding the wave of his debut success, Cole presents this follow-up that appears to lack the intensity and grit of DS William Fawkes’ initial case. With Fawkes away and on the lam, all eyes turn to newly-promoted Detective Chief Inspector Emily Baxter. While the Ragdoll killer is safely locked away, the case lingers and everyone remains on edge. When a call come in from New York City, where a body identified as ‘William Fawkes’ has been found, Baxter agrees to travel and investigate this oddity. Before she makes it out of the country, she visits Belmarsh once more to see the Ragdoll, only to be trapped in the middle of an event that leaves him dead and Baxter significantly spooked. Upon her arrival in NYC, DCI Baxter liaises with some of the local and federal authorities as more murder scenes emerge, victims bearing ‘puppet’ and ‘bait’ inscriptions on the body. Might there be a connection to Ragdoll that’s crossed the Atlantic? Baxter is equally baffled when news from the Met reaches her that other killings of a similar style have been taking place in the UK. How can all these killers be connected without a clear threat to bind them? As Baxter continues to investigate, she follows a lead that turns the case on its head, but media outlets have chosen to broadcast it before it can be properly analysed. Might there be a central leader who has ordered these murders, as odd and unrelated as they seem? Witnesses have recounted that the killers seem almost detached from the events, leading many to wonder about some form of mind control. Religious symbolism and the talk of cultish behaviour begin to flood Baxter’s investigation, forcing her to come to terms with the fact that this might be more than just tracking down a killer, but someone who holds a handful of strings and can make followers dance on command. Cole surely has devised an interesting way to ‘string along’ the reader, though to substance of the story is not as strong as I would have hoped. Fans of the debut will likely want to take the plunge, if only to discover what Cole has planned, but all the hype this book has received is lost on me.

It is disappointing to find a writer dedicate so much of their time to a debut that skyrockets, only to find the follow-up limp along. I was captivated by Cole’s first piece and could not wait to get my hands on this one (which had been getting some great reviews), but found it fell short of the mark. The story had potential, as did the characters, but delivery of both seems to have been rushed or not cultivated enough to pique my interest. With DS Fawkes gone (spoiler alert?), the narrative pulls DCI Emily Baxter into the spotlight. She has strong ties to Fawkes, but is also trying to make a name for herself in the Met, where women are still rapping on the glass ceiling. Her energetic attitude and interest in getting dirt under her nails is unequally balanced by her desire to fill shoes that do not fit. I found myself constantly trying to like Baxter as a character and investigator, but nothing stuck for me, either in her personal or professional life. This is unfortunate, as the protagonist is the one who leads the reader along through the case at hand. A smattering of other characters on both sides of the ledger also lacked the complexity that I felt this book needed, especially with the set of crimes being offered up to the reader. I needed to feel angst and confusion as well as determination to let nothing stop justice from making its mark. Instead, I felt things kept circling the drain, hoping to find some action or sicko moment that would spring the narrative to life. Cole had all the ingredients for success, but the mix did not work for me. Others will surely agree and I can defer to them. The story had much possibility, especially utilising two venues, but fell flat and left me wanting more and needing to feel a stronger connection. Even the central mastermind became beige, leaving me wishing I had known this before rushing to seek enjoyment with this second novel. Perhaps I needed to let Ragdoll ferment before rushing into this one, but whatever it was, this did not work and I am sorry. A third novel in the series is surely a while off, so I will have time to gather my thoughts before then.

Kudos, Mr. Cole, for attempting to keep things running effectively. If you had to have a less impactful novel, thankfully it was this second, as your debut is the net that will catch you many fans. As I know your potential, I’lol likely come back for another read and hope for better things.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons