Hangman by Jack Heath

‘The more of me you take, the more you leave behind. What am I?’

A fourteen-year-old boy is on his way home from school when he vanishes. A ransom call is made to his mother. A deadline is set, it is only hours away and the police have no leads. The Director of the Houston Field Office of the FBI, Peter Luhzin, calls in Timothy Blake (codename Hangman). He has a reputation for solving impossible cases but he’s the FBI’s last resort. Why this is so will quickly become apparent. It is a secret that Timothy Blake is desperate to keep hidden. Timothy Blake has seemingly preternatural observational skills and can make connections that other miss.

Warning: this is not a novel for the squeamish, and it’s not one of Jack Heath’s children’s novels. It is a murky roller coaster ride through several dark sides of humanity. Timothy Blake’s story, gradually revealed as he tries to find the kidnapper, reveals a dark past. We quickly learn that Timothy Blake is a cannibal, it takes longer to learn why.

‘One body for every life I save. That’s my deal with Luhzin.’

There are plenty of twists in this novel. Each chapter is introduced with a riddle, some of which I found easier to work out than others. Each riddle has its place in the story (and the answers can be fond on Jack Heath’s website for those who need them, but don’t read ahead. It may ruin your enjoyment of the novel.)

Timothy Blake is assigned a partner by the FBI (after all, they can’t let cannibals work unsupervised, can they?). But Timothy has a problem: his partner is a woman linked to his past. Will they find the kidnapped boy in time? And just who is the kidnapper?

While I found aspects of this story unbelievable (hey, it’s my sanity and I’m trying to save it) I was totally caught up in the journey. We know that cannibals exist, we just hope they’ve not yet been accepted into law enforcement bodies.

‘Right now, the cops will be scraping my blood off the fence and my hair off the headrest in the car. Soon they’ll be searching databases for my DNA. I’ve been careful, so I’m hoping they won’t find any matches. But you can only eat so many people before someone notices. Maybe I left a trace somewhere. Maybe some cop has been hunting me for years, and this is his big break.’

Timothy Blake may not be as polished and urbane as Hannibal Lecter, or perhaps as focussed as Dexter Morgan, but who knows? What does the future hold for Timothy Blake? I’m keen to find out.

Recommended, but not for the squeamish.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith