Sunday, October 2, 2016

Review: The Hanged Man (2015, Her Majesty's Psychic Service #1)

The Hanged Man, by P.N. Elrod, is the first book in the new gaslight paranormal fantasy series that takes place in Victorian London. The novel begins on a cold and dreary Christmas Eve in 1879. A forensic psychic is summoned from her home to the scene of a questionable death at a house on Baker Street. A man has hung himself, but by using her abilities to pick up on emotional traces left behind, Alex is able to rule out a suicide. Alexandrina (Alex) Victoria Pendlebury (named after her godmother--Victoria, Queen of England) is confident that the death in question is a magically compromised murder and not a suicide, as the police had assumed. they find the evidence that someone broke into the house, drugged the hapless victim and strung him up to make it look like he killed himself. What’s even more disturbing to Alex is the lack of emotional signature from the perpetrator. Whoever (or whatever) committed this murder, they did it without feeling anything at all.

Then the identity of the hanged man is revealed and Alex’s world comes crashing down around her. This opens up a whole new set of questions, deeply personal ones that fill her with doubt as she struggles to keep her mind on the investigation. Her superiors remove her from the case, but Alex is determined to follow up on leads even if it means setting out on her own. Luckily, she’s not completely alone; newly recruited Lieutenant Brooks maybe new to magic but he is supportive of Alex in this investigation. Then there is the mysterious and enigmatic Lord Richard Desmond who seems to know more a lot of detail about Alex's background. There are assassins and dark magic afoot, and both Scotland Yard and the Psychic Service are going to need all the help they can get. Alex must uncover the deeper issues at stake, before more bodies turn up.

P.N. Elrod is back in action! After I read the entire Vampire Files and Jonathan Barret: Gentleman Vampire series in my undergraduate years, I learned about this new surprising series from her website. It is different from her other book series but I am starting to like the gaslight fantasy genre. Elrod is a great, meticulous writer who can take her readers into the time period that she is writing (whether it's 1930s Chicago or 1870s London, she has done her homework on the culture of the characters and background setting!) I truly felt the mystery and magic unfold in this plot---I was constantly on the edge of my seat throughout the story (from carriage-racing horses to family betrayal and loss). Alex and Lieutenant Brooks have a promising working (and romantic) relationship together. I love how Alex is a brave and smart protagonist who can defend herself in an era where the cult of true womanhood was at its height. Alex skips the domestic sphere and creates a professional career that employs her empathic skills to good use--investigating unsolved mysteries with magical element in the streets of London. I want to know more about the secrets and organization of the Her Majesty's Psychic Service, the difference between seers and precogs, and the occult organization that Alex stumbles upon in solving the mysterious murder. With its blend of mystery, historical, romance, and fantasy, this novel will delight fans and newcomers to the world of Elrod. Watch out Sherlock Holmes, there is a new investigator in town with an empathic touch. I can't wait to read the next novel in this delightful series.

Stay tuned for future updates on this great addition to the gaslight fantasy genre. I know I’m often bemoaning that all books these days seem to be part of a series, but in this case I’m actually hoping there will be more installments. The Hanged Man reads perfectly well as a standalone, but there’s still a lot left to ponder. Just what kind of secrets are the top men at Her Majesty’s Psychic Service hiding? I’d also love to get more background on the organization and its people. It appears that Alex and her Reader skills are just the beginning, seeing as the Service also employs Seers and Precogs and what sounds to me like a considerable R&D department. With all this supernatural talent flying around, I imagine there’s quite a bit of potential for future novels. And last but not least, I think Alex and Lieutenant Brooks have a good thing here going, and it would be interesting to watch their romance (which is just in the first stages of blooming here) develop into something more. I anticipated that I would really like The Hanged Man, I just didn’t know it would be this much. A blend of Urban Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Mystery and Romance all rolled into one, it’s sure to appeal to readers with a palate for bold twists and magical intrigue. The writing is simply wonderful, with P.N. Elrod’s prose bringing the period to life in a very expressive and authentic way. The story and characters are very well developed, and if I ever get the chance to catch up with Alex, Brooks, James and the other people in this world again, I know I won’t hesitate

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