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Gallows Hill by Rory O'Brien
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Gallows Hill

by Rory O'Brien

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On his first day back on the job Salem police detective Andrew Lennox did not expect to find a hanged man on Gallows Hill, on which the accused witches supposedly met their fate*. Add to this a very cold case and he’s got his hands full. Not to mention that his personal life is kind of a mess right now. As he and his partner, Sargent Michelle Ouellette, discover closely guarded secrets, the reasons behind the murders begin to emerge. And murderers aren’t the only ones keeping secrets. Obviously I don’t want to get much deeper into the plot.

It’s less of a whodunit and more of a “how-do-we-prove-they-dunit”, as the perpetrators become apparent, but the evidence does not. Unlike a lot of crime fiction I’ve read, the reasons for and details of the murders are actually believable. The two murders being investigated have nice parallels despite being completely unrelated cases.

I enjoyed the rich details of the setting. The author knows Salem very well and is clearly delighted in the mix of several centuries of history and tourist kitsch. You’ll learn quite a bit about the local history, but the facts are important to the story and never too pedantic.

I’m looking forward to further adventures of Detective Lennox and his Quebecois-cursing, cufflink-wearing partner. There are plenty of hooks for further character development, so it seems likely that we will see them again.

*It was most likely elsewhere, but you’ll discover that when you read the book.
  casamoomba | Jul 30, 2014 |
When I picked up Gallows Hill, a murder mystery that takes place in the nearby and small-but-infamous town of Salem, Massachusetts, I wasn't sure what I would find within. It turns out that the book is an excellent, fast-paced police procedural mystery, as opposed to the New England cozy one might first expect from the location.

This is not to say that the location is not at the heart of this story. While it remains in the background, it is the constant, as it must be for the people who live their everyday lives there. It is this familiarity with the town that draws us in. It is a familiarity that cannot be faked, it must be given, and author Rory O'Brien gifts us with it gracefully and without us even realizing it.

That is because our attention is on the murder that has been committed, and a murder in Salem plays on a centuries-old history that lends itself to an innate alteration of context and meaning. The most innocent turn of phrase cannot be turned on one's tongue without exposing buried layers of hatred and madness from the Puritan witch hunts that went before.

While on the surface the murderer appears to play with Salem's historic triggers by placing the corpse on historic Gallows Hill, and scrawling pentagrams on the victim's palms, underneath this facetious drama lies a playing-out of ancient Salem family threads in a story all too modern, all too tied to the past.

O'Brien reels the reader in right from the start. There is no fluff in this story, no lingering too long on teashop scenes or lurid witchy ritual. The characters are each their own selves, clearly painted without the feel of cliché. Through them, the reader’s eye is turned to Salem's bare everyday heart, glimpsed clearly as each twist of the story plays out against the trapping of the town’s ever-present tourist kitsch. This is all done quite adeptly by O'Brien without any obtrusiveness. By the end of the book, the reader feels like they know Salem and its history, without quite knowing how they were told about it.

But – does the reader know who the murderer is?

Fans of "In the Woods" by Tana French and those who relish the wry and dry wit embedded in Jan Willem van de Wetering's Amsterdam mysteries will be as happy with this tale as I found myself to be. ( )
  msouliere | Apr 1, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0615966195, Paperback)

Murder in Salem? In this day and age? First day back on the job, introverted police detective Andrew Lennox and his partner discover the body of a hanged man on Gallows Hill who turns out to be the lost heir of the Musgraves, an old family with a twisted history and who deny all knowledge of the victim. Solving the case takes Lennox through the colorful byways of modern Salem, a city still haunted by its own dark history of Puritan hysteria and witch-hunting zealots. He must deal with Halloween tourists, self-styled witches, college students, tarot readers, local politicians, retired cops and recent immigrants. Lennox discovers that everyone in Salem keeps secrets, and some will kill to keep them. “Rory O'Brien is an astonishing conjurer with words. Out of his deep historical knowledge, his perceptiveness about everyday existence, and his vivid imagination, he has brought to life in all its unique glory the legend-haunted city of Salem, Massachusetts. Detective Andrew Lennox is an utterly believable hero whose clever exploits provide subtle frissons.” – Paul Di Filippo, co-author of Families Are Murder. “What could be more ideal than a murder mystery set in Salem, written by an expert on the dark secrets of New England? What could be better than a police procedural at the very epicenter of our Trick or Treat tradition? Anyone seeking a delightful whodunit will eat this book up like a bag of Halloween candy.” – Walter Greatshell, author of Terminal Island

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:59 -0400)

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