The only other Mo Hayder book I’ve read was Pig Island, and it really creeped me out. I also found it gross, though I can’t remember exactly why (and to be honest, I don’t want to remember either). So I approached Hanging Hill with interest, but also a bit of trepidation.
There was a mystery in Hanging Hill — a teenaged girl was murdered — but the story really revolved around the lives of two sisters: Zoe, one of the detectives investigating the murder, and Sally, a divorcee whose daughter is the victim’s classmate.
From my experience with Pig Island, I was expecting a horrifying tale. Instead I got a very touching one, horrifying not in the gross, almost supernaturally creepy way of Pig Island, but in a much more basic, emotional way of seeing the lives of characters you care for turn out horribly. I felt bad for Sally, who was doing her best to take care of her daughter Millie. All Millie wants is to fit in with her wealthier classmates, and this leads to her making some bad decisions, which in turn forces Sally to take a job as housekeeper for a man with shady connections. It’s a difficult situation, and at times it felt like a horror movie, where you know Sally’s decisions will only lead to more trouble, and yet feel as helpless as she does in finding another way out.
Zoe is almost as sympathetic a character — strong-willed and hot-tempered, she sometimes came off as too defensive and jealous of the beautiful psychological profiler. She gets very involved in her cases, and Hayder shows how Zoe almost literally tries to identify with the victims. For example, the victim in this case was gagged with a tennis ball, so Zoe puts a tennis ball in her own mouth and forces herself to keep it in for as long as she can, to imagine how the victim must have felt in her final moments. Zoe also has some skeletons in her closet, and when the skeletons in her past somehow connect with the problems of Sally’s present, the momentum picks up and you can just see both sisters’ lives going out of control. The siblings are estranged, because of an incident in their childhood, and at times, I just wanted to yell at them to make up and get back together already, because it would help solve both their problems.
I especially love the Millie storyline. On one hand, I was annoyed by her for getting into such deep financial trouble just so she can join a school trip. On the other hand, I can only begin to imagine what a terrifying situation she was in, especially for a teenager, and I was more annoyed at the father (Sally’s ex) for not bailing her and Sally out. I loved the storyline of Millie being in love with the hot guy (who of course was in love with someone else), when Millie actually had a nerdy friend already in love with her. Sally promised the nerdy friend that someday, when Millie grew up, she’d see him in a new light. I thought that was sweet.
The mystery itself was pretty difficult to solve, and the ending took me completely by surprise. I thought the final scene was a particularly gutsy way to end the book. I actually checked if there were additional pages I’d missed — surely Hayder wouldn’t end it with that! — then, finding none, thought, “Good for you, Mo Hayder.” Hanging Hill takes a while to build up — it focuses so much more on character development than mystery solving — but once it gets going, the momentum just keeps building, and it ends with a bang.