My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Length: 320 pages
Release date: 19 October 2017 (UK) / 3 October 2017 (US)
Skye Thorn has given tarot card readings for years, and now her psychic visions are helping the police find the town’s missing golden girl. It’s no challenge—her readings have always been faked, but this time she has some insider knowledge. The kidnapping was supposed to be easy—no one would get hurt and she’d get the money she needs to start a new life. But a seemingly harmless prank has turned dark, and Skye realizes the people she’s involved with are willing to kill to get what they want and she must discover their true identity before it’s too late.
“Maybe I’d had enough. Maybe the only way to make the life I’d been wishing for a reality was to do something big If destiny was going to try and keep me here, I was going to have to do something bold to change it.”
Nothing is as it seems in The Hanging Girl, a claustrophobic intersection of Gone Girl with One of Us Is Lying. Eileen Cook writes plot twists like second nature, artfully using thriller tropes in imaginative ways. Her skill at writing unreliable narration where the POV character deliberately withholds information is amongst the best, so that even when she uses well-known tricks, I couldn’t see them coming. Honestly, I’m still kicking myself for missing that twist about a third of the way through. Especially as I’ve seen it so many times by authors from Sandra Brown to Chris Carter.
Meet Skye Thorn, an 18-year-old hardened skeptic with a borderline crazy mom (think healing crystals and homeopathy) who scams gullible classmates with tarot readings that she fabricates from Sherlock-esque observation skills, in order to help pay the bills and one day save enough to go to New York with her rich friend Drew.
Skye is the Philippe Pétit of liars. Seriously, the way she tells falsehood after falsehood is amazing to behold. It’s a house of cards waiting to crash at any moment, and she’s balanced on the top of it, 400 metres from the ground. That’s what Cook makes the stakes feel like. Combined with Skye’s gifts for manipulation and deductive reasoning, The Hanging Girl really feels like an espionage thriller at times. No one can be trusted, not even the protagonist herself. This is the perfect book to get you wondering if you’re rooting for her because she’s worth rooting for, or simply because she’s the main character. It’s messy, it’s morally grey, the devil is everywhere in the details–and wow, I love it.
Skye’s combination of sharp intelligence (a welcome reprieve from the YA/NA norm) and moral ambiguity means that the sense of paranoia amps up significantly over the novel. By the end, I was suspecting everyone from the police to a seemingly innocuous security guard to the high school valedictorian. I won’t say which, if any, of those panned out *insert evil laugh*, but like most psychological thrillers, many characters are not what they initially seem. The Hanging Girl goes above and beyond in two major aspects: One, by writing red herrings with just as much narrative weight as the guilty parties, subverting a good handful of clichés on the way. And two, by not only giving characters more depth than meets the eye, but by being able to totally turn a character on their head without making them seem out of character. There were characters I hated in the beginning and loved by the end. And vice versa. I don’t know how the author did it, but it’s no small feat.
I thought the climax was resolved a little too quickly, the villain dealt with a little too easily. It was also the only plot twist in the book I found stereotypical–I had to sigh a little, having predicted it from a mile away, considering that I’ve seen it dozen of times before. But it makes sense in retrospect, when I think about the characterisation of that villain, for them to meet their downfall the way they did. Plus, there’s one pretty awesome final plot twist after that to keep you engaged.
Whether you’ll find the conclusion satisfying will really depend on what kind of ending you’re looking for. Personally, I’m very happy with the way Cook ties things up: It’s not all doom and gloom, but neither is it rainbows and sunshine. In another book I might call it bittersweet, but Skye is too much of a cynic to present us with that kind of tone. So I’ll leave it at realistic.
*Thanks to NetGalley and Bonnier Zaffre for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.