Stephan Talty scored an impressive debut in 2013 with BLACK IRISH, which introduced Absalom “Abbie” Kearney, a second-generation Buffalo police detective, to the world of crime fiction. If that book opened the door for Talty, then HANGMAN tears the roof off of the building with a riveting and addictive follow-up that should earn him the legion of fans he demonstrably deserves.
Talty’s reputation as an author of historical nonfiction precedes him and also serves him well in the Abbie Kearney series. HANGMAN, as with its predecessor, builds on the faded bones of Buffalo, New York, and its surrounding environs to provide a chilling backdrop of a frenzied hunt for a dangerous murderer. Some years ago, before Kearney returned to Buffalo, a serial killer named Marcus Flynn haunted the city’s north side, killing the teenage daughters of the residents in a manner that earned him the nickname “The Hangman.” He had taken four victims --- the last of whom was never found --- before apparently attempting to commit suicide in a forlorn motel room where he was discovered with a gunshot wound to the head. Flynn’s unsuccessful attempt to end his life left him with significant neurological damage, some of which he was able to slowly overcome while incarcerated.
"There is an intriguing, puzzling mystery here, and the seemingly unrelated clues don’t seem to add up (at least at first)..."
In the present, however, Flynn continues to represent a clear and present danger to the citizens of Buffalo. He manages to escape from custody when, during a prisoner transport, the vehicle in which he is riding takes a mysterious detour to the motel where years before he had been discovered and apprehended, grievously wounded, and his fourth victim was last seen. Flynn is now on the loose, and the major fear is that he will pick up precisely where he left off. It is hoped that he can be captured before he gets anywhere near his old hunting grounds of North Buffalo, with Kearney given the task of leading the manhunt, which would immediately gear up in the event that Flynn made it through the law enforcement phalanx that quickly surrounds the site of his escape.
The hope that Flynn will be captured quickly fades when a teenage girl is found dead, hanging by the neck in her backyard. Panic understandably ensues, and the pressure is on Kearney to apprehend Flynn immediately. There are problems and questions that swirl about the case. The prison guard who was escorting Flynn at the time was living far beyond his visible means. There was no reason for Flynn’s transport to make the detour near the notorious motel. The most haunting question of all, though, is one that has resonated for years: What happened to Flynn’s last victim? Was she buried near the motel, or left somewhere else?
In order to get answers to these questions and to apprehend Flynn --- hopefully before he can claim more victims --- Kearney may have to turn to a loose, extra-legal association of law enforcement officers who are willing to give her temporary access to their informational network...but for a price she may not be willing to pay. As the city reacts in terror to the news of the monster that has re-emerged in their midst, Kearney must act quickly with what clues she has in order to uncover both shallow and deep truths to bring the killings to an end.
Talty really delivers the goods with HANGMAN. It would be enough to create edge-of-your-seat suspense for an author to throw a serial killer --- of teenage girls, no less --- into the mix of a plot and let the beast run wild. Talty does more. There is an intriguing, puzzling mystery here, and the seemingly unrelated clues don’t seem to add up (at least at first), moving between Buffalo’s conflicted past and dark, deteriorating present. And when they finally do, surprises abound. In the meantime, Talty never lets his story flag for a moment. All of the above makes HANGMAN a tale that is not to be missed.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 20, 2014