Review: The Hanging Tree

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch
Acquired how: bought paperback

 

Okay, first of all: as far as I’m concerned, The Hanging Tree was totally worth the wait. It is awesome.

It felt so good to get back in touch with Peter, Beverley and Nightingale. This many books into the series, it’s a bit like catching up with old friends. I’m so thoroughly invested in them and their world that Aaronovitch would have to write a pretty crap book for me to not enjoy it. Luckily, this is one of the more enjoyable entries in the series. However, a lot of why I enjoyed it so much was due to build up and pay off of things introduced earlier in the series. And while there is a bit of exposition to get regular readers to remember everything that’s gone on, I don’t think a new reader could pick up this book and feel up to speed, without reading the previous five books.

I strongly suspect that this post is going to immediately into spoiler territory, so if you’re reading this by cross post, please be careful to avoid the

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Okay, first of all I loved having so much Guleed. She is awesome and so much fun. So are all the other regular detective characters in this series that pop up in this one, but I liked that we got to see so much more of her in this book.

Beverley wasn’t in it a huge amount, but I liked the bits we got of her, and I love that she and Peter are in a good, stable relationship. Not just because of the multi-book build up and how cute they are, but also because of the extra sting that adds to the scene toward the end with Lady Ty.

Another thing I love: Nightingale. He’s the dreamiest. I love every time in these books that he gets to swoop in and be the most competent old man around.

Reading this one made me think about my tolerance of exposition and long description in different books. I feel that the narration does a lot of what could reasonably be called info-dumping, but instead of being annoyed I’m pretty much always delighted by it. I’m sure to a certain extent that’s because of genre – not only because certain genres take better to certain kinds of exposition (I’ve often noticed that when reading space opera I’m wore willing to read characters tell each other about how made up mechanical things or far-future political systems work, and in romance I’ll happily read through a bit of in narrative exposition about how people feel during pages of dialogue, because these things are ubiquitous in these genres), but also because I just happen to really like urban fantasy so I’m more willing to give it a pass.

But in this particular case I think it’s largely because of the main character. The books are in first person from Peter’s point of view and he is a cop. Ergo, it makes sense that he would think about the visual details he notices about suspect, and how inconvenient forensics would be during a case, and what happened during previous investigations. It didn’t feel like ‘As you know, Bob’. I believed Peter’s point of view.

And I also like the way Peter notices race (because, of course, he can’t escape being aware of it the way a white character could), and therefore makes the reader conscious of it. Because this inevitably also makes it clear the way power and privilege change things for various people he deals with in the course of his police work. I really want someone to write a huge essay about this stuff in this series, but it won’t be me, because I’m thoroughly brain-fried.

Plus, I liked the continuing nods to Peter’s nerdery and love and knowledge of certain architectural styles, as well as distaste for others. I love the texture of Peter as a character. He’s a good bloke.

I liked the pacing. I thought the action scenes in this one were really cool. I liked the way the investigation in this one played out.

Finally, I want to talk about how fascinating it is to think about Lesley’s villainy and her place in the series. I was thinking even before I read this one that she seems to have been on the dark side for the whole series, as far as I can tell. She was controlled by Punch from very early on in Rivers of London and I wonder if she’d already been contacted by the Faceless Man by the time she showed up able to do a bit of magic, supposedly without having been taught. Effectively, she could have been evil the whole time. I love that. Is it wrong that I love that the overarching villains of the series are white people? Because if so, I don’t want to be right. It’s kind of interesting that Lesley, someone who, from the beginning, always had things come more easily to her than to Peter, hasn’t been on the up and up for possibly the entire time she’s been on page. Even when Peter thought she was helping early on, she was double crossing him, first due to possession, but later knowingly. I’ve been thinking about this since Broken Homes. Obviously, what happened to Lesley’s face was awful and it makes sense she’d be desperate for a way to fix it, but there’s something interesting in a character who chooses to betray everyone she knows the first time the way she looks becomes something people are irrationally afraid of.

I must apologise for how rambling and incoherent this whole entry is after so many extra days to think about this book, but instead of allowing me to put my thoughts together, I just got more frazzled. I can’t wait for the next one.