The Hanging Tree
March 19, 2019 4:37 AM - by Ben Aaronovitch - Subscribe

Suspicious deaths are not usually the concern of Police Constable Peter Grant or the Folly—London’s police department for supernatural cases—even when they happen at an exclusive party in one of the flats of the most expensive apartment blocks in London. But the daughter of Lady Ty, influential goddess of the Tyburn river, was there, and Peter owes Lady Ty a favor.
posted by dinty_moore (29 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think this one might be my favorite. I don't care that much about the delving into the ultra-rich, but there's a good combination of side characters/worldbuilding, tense action sequences, and Peter being clever and funny and people being good at what they do. It's a lot more hopeful at the end, too - something that's been missing since the end of Broken Homes.

*Peter is competent and appreciated and his ability to be able to work within a bureaucratic framework. And Nightingale picking up and learning things from him, and obviously being all-in on the concept of modern, community-focused and accountable policing. We've talked about how Nightingale is very person-focused and works best when he can pick up things from others, and now their relationship is at a point where Peter is able to fill that role.

(Which is good, because damn, did Nightingale miss a ton in those sixty-odd years)

*Of other Newtonian practitioners - I enjoyed both groups, the Virgin Americans and the Society of the Rose. It's also interesting that these are the first two groups that haven't had an obvious midcentury decimation, the way that the Chinese/Taiwanese and French practitioners had. Americans as Blackwater makes a ton of sense. The society of the rose having medical knowledge answers a ton of questions, and Lady Helena's background and characterization is creepy racist enough that my sympathies still are able to lie with Nightingale and Peter.

*Caroline Linden-Limmer, though. I'd kill for her POV. Or just more of her.

*Also, Sahra. We get a ton of Sahra in this book and she's awesome through the entire thing, but not in a 'obviously more competent and interesting than the main character - wait, why aren't we reading about her?' sort of way. I also like the fact that her relationship with Peter is different from Peter's relationship with Lesley - they're not as close, but it also just seems less awkward and dysfunctional than even Peter's relationship with Lesley in RoL/MR. They're work buddies.

*I am here for any and all literary fiction sendups. I loved the completely incorrect, patronizing, and racist guess about Peter's backstory from Albert Price. (this was the 'rich people being ignorant and racist' book, I guess)

*Generally I like Peter's POV, but it does mean that we miss out on some things. Like Sahra's interview with Albert Price. I also want to know what Mrs. Grant's conversations with Nightingale are like. Especially what their first conversation must have been like.

*I think I find Reynard the pedophile a lot more creepier than I'm supposed to. The liking them not quite legal (and/or thirteen years-old) thing came off as more of an unsavory quirk on par with Zach's whole thing, instead of needing to be on a sex offender registry. Which, ew.

*I was glad that Stephonopoulos was there to be the terrifying loom of morality - both regarding Reynard and explaining Caroline. Also the sheer amount of Stephanopoulos!

*The fight scenes are exciting but easy to follow - especially the last one, which involves a number of different parties but is still easy to track.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:32 PM on March 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

I came away feeling like I had missed something. Christina Chorley felt like a red herring. Once it was revealed that Martin Chorley was the Faceless Man, it seemed that her death no longer mattered at all - not to Martin Chorley, or to her friends, or to the story. The Faceless Man II had set his plans in motion well before this book, anyway. So in all, it just felt too tidy for Martin Chorley to just happen to be the Faceless Man... unless that was the point. Can anyone explain this to me? XD
posted by esker at 6:50 AM on March 20, 2019

I came away feeling like I had missed something. Christina Chorley felt like a red herring. Once it was revealed that Martin Chorley was the Faceless Man, it seemed that her death no longer mattered at all - not to Martin Chorley, or to her friends, or to the story. The Faceless Man II had set his plans in motion well before this book, anyway. So in all, it just felt too tidy for Martin Chorley to just happen to be the Faceless Man... unless that was the point. Can anyone explain this to me? XD

I think it was that Christina Chorley's death led to Martin Chorley making mistakes and taking risks that he otherwise would not take. If Christina hadn't died, Martin wouldn't have revealed himself to Phoebe and wouldn't have killed Aiden, and the cops wouldn't have had a reason to suspect him at all. Well, the British cops, anyway - the Virginia Company might have raided Chorley's magic stash without getting Nightingale and Grant involved.

I don't think anything that happened during this novel was part of Martin's original plan. The thing that Nightingale keeps on saying - that the faceless man, despite appearing as an unknowable menace, isn't an evil mastermind - is kind of true. Genre conventions tend to tell us that personal connections inhibit the protagonists but not the antagonists - when in this case, being part of the community means that Peter at least has connections to work with, but Chorley gets too emotional when his own are threatened and makes mistakes (plus, parenting a teenager means that his daughter is raiding more than the liquor cabinet and gets other parties involved).
posted by dinty_moore at 7:17 AM on March 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think I find Reynard the pedophile a lot more creepier than I'm supposed to.

Oh my god, yes. I really don’t know what to make of him, especially since I had the vague impression from his earlier appearance that he was like, maybe 18, but in this book it’s clear he’s in his mid-30s? Not a character I want to see a lot of.

I think part of the story is about how Chorley and Tyburn both kind of lose their focus when their children get caught up in bad things. In both cases, they are pretty off their game, and they end up in a sort of ridiculous urban duel, which I suspect neither would have undertaken in their right minds. Leaving room, of course, for Peter and company to get their foot into the plot.

I found it a little unsatisfying that Tyburn called in her marker and Peter didn’t really deliver, although he did save the day. After Beverley played her “get out of Fairie free” card last book, Peter is making a habit of not paying his debts to powerful supernatural creatures….
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:51 PM on March 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks, dinty_moore! I can see that. Much appreciated.
posted by esker at 4:46 AM on March 21, 2019

I need to re-re-re-read to comment, but I gotta say that the exchange between Tyburn and Peter at the end about outliving her babies gets me in the gut on every level.

For one thing, it explains why Tyburn is so ferociously goddamn protective of her children -- it's not just standard posh entitlement and power brokering, even though the poshest, worst person like Martin Chorley will feel deep, terrible things when their children die. But the idea that even at their full natural length, the lives of her children will be over so quickly. She loves them so much, and they will be dead so soon, and there is nothing she can do to change that, so every moment she has of them is precious, and she will break your face if you come try to cut that short.

Remember that part in one of the earlier books? Where Peter tracks her down by her son's driving license, and how the door opens, and it's the teenage son and he is completely absolutely absurdly teenager-y? And the throwaway line in the last book about how Oberon keeps Efra (I think it is) from basically kidnapping a particularly cute little child at the funfair?

I'm not sure this book is entirely coherent, but I'm getting teary thinking about Tyburn and her children.
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:50 AM on March 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

Something I hope we get into in future books is weather Tyburn’s character led to the famous tree being selected, or if the tree affected Tyburn’s character. I would think bing a genius locorum of an execution place would affect you....
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:57 AM on March 22, 2019

Oh my god, yes. I really don’t know what to make of him, especially since I had the vague impression from his earlier appearance that he was like, maybe 18, but in this book it’s clear he’s in his mid-30s? Not a character I want to see a lot of.

Going back to Broken Homes, he's described as 'at least ten years older than Abigail' who was, as we're reminded, thirteen. So at least in his exceptionally hirstute mid-twenties (maybe older), while hitting on a thirteen year-old. And a serial offender? It's possible that he usually goes for the barely legal-ish range and only tried to pick up Abigail because white people tend to assume black kids are older than they actually are, but about halfway through thinking the first part of this sentence the screeching in my hindbrain got too loud and like none of this is making the situation any better. Dude's an unrepentant pedophile. Peter thinks he's distasteful, but is generally treated like we should think of him as much of an issue.

Another question I have - is civil and criminal asset forfeiture an issue in the UK? Because the ferrari scene is obviously supposed to be a feel-good moment (and the fistbump was cute), but despite my best efforts, reality sort of creeped and tinged that scene. I have to say that this still happens a lot less often than your typical crime procedural or detective novel.

I'm not sure this book is entirely coherent, but I'm getting teary thinking about Tyburn and her children.

I think it's also notable that Effra has Oberon - who is older than her by a few centuries, and Fleet's partner is a fae - who I assume has Molly-like immortality. Tyburn regrets getting involved with a mortal, and her sisters seem to have learned from it - except for Bev.

I do wish that we saw Bev's side of the conversation with Tyburn, or even a conversation with her and Peter. I'm glad that we see Peter thinking about what the long term will be like with Bev - what their kids will be like, at least - since some time has passed since Foxglove Summer and he seems pretty serious about her. But in a lot of ways, Peter has the easy part of the deal. As much as he wonders about the idea that his kids might be not like him, the evidence we have seems to point to them being fairly mundane. And as much as he's thinking about it, he doesn't ever seem to ask Bev - who at least has a relationship with Ty's kids and might have more information about what their kids would be like. Conversations about emotions aren't Peter's thing (and, like bringing up kids with someone you're dating is always nerve racking), but there were times where I just wanted Peter to use his words.

And then we have the other major parent/offspring pairing in this book - Caroline and Lady Helena. And between Lady Helena referring to her adopted brown or disabled kids as a menagerie among the rest of her racism and Caroline mentioning wanting to escape - we can guess how functional that relationship is.

I kind of like that Tyburn's investment in Peter doesn't work for her: he's just horrible at being corrupt. Not quite Captain Carrot levels (though I do enjoy that the first thing he does after being told not to tell Nightingale is . . . tell Nightingale), but between being a lowly constable and just not having a clue about where to start with a cover-up, there's just not much he can do. I do wonder what Lesley might have managed.

It seems to pay out in other ways, though - she gets her say in what the future of the folly is like. It's not the complete control she wants, but she doesn't get completely shut out either.

G&P mentioned in one of the earlier books that it seems like Aaronovitch seems like he could use another 100 pages typically, and I think that's true here as well - or even splitting this up into two books and give some of the side characters and side plots more room to breathe. But I think overall the book remains as coherent as any of them are - there's a lot of plot details and explanations that just don't seem to stick in my brain with these books, but the major stuff seemed to stick this time.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:06 PM on March 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

If nothing else, the book made Chorley more human. Within his limited emotional ability, he seems genuinely upset, though I suspect he was a terrible father.

There’s probably something to be said for families as a guide to the “goodness” of a character in these books. Peter’s family, although not without faults, is generally positive. The Rivers seem to mostly like and support one another. The families in Foxglove Summer succeed or fail partially on how well they pull together and look after each other, despite their secrets and shames. Even garbagey Zach manages to try and build a family with Lesley and one hand and the quiet people on the other. And Nightingale, while not exactly building a family, seems very happy to be presented with one, ramshackle and makeshift as it is.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:57 PM on March 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hit post too soon. Tyburn and Chorley are a contrast here. While Tyburn is maybe not the best mother in the world, or even the series, we never get the sense whether Chorley was deeply attached to his daughter as a person or as a kind of belonging. Maybe that’s the reason why Tyburn comes out of this book relatively well, and Chorley does not....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:01 PM on March 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Late to the party but to piggyback on the others above I do like that it's the accidental death of his daughter that unbalances Chorley and causes him to make mistakes. A major thread of this series is Peter's determination to treat the various supernatural beings he meets as people, with rights. Treating the antagonist not as some perfect evil machine but also as a person, with exploitable flaws links in with that.

Like GenjiandProust I was a little put off that Peter seems to get out of the favor he owes Tyburn so easily. Maybe it's supposed to connect to the notion that the old, corruption-prone, method of endless little "arrangements" is the past, and can't be how things work anymore? Or maybe it just gets subsumed into her general annoyance with him and her grudging recognition that her daughter was digging the hole deeper faster than Peter could fill it in. I did love this exchange between them towards the end, when she's warning him off Bev:
“You seem to have got the impression that I don’t like you,” she said. “As a person, that is—rather than a fucking impediment to everything I’ve been trying to build for the last twenty years.” She hesitated and then sighed again. “Where was I?”
I also thought this little zinger that got snuck in as part of the denouement was just amazing.:
"...In any case, while Lady Helena will no doubt do a splendid job teasing out its secrets, I believe relying on the wisdom of the ancients, so to speak, is a mistake.” Nightingale gave a crooked grin I’d never seen before—it made him look all of fourteen. Suddenly I could see him standing on the playing fields of Casterbrook, hands in pockets, school cap pulled down at a rakish angle and looking into a future untroubled by anything more than a couple of world wars, atomic bombs and the loss of everything he held dear.
We don't get a huge amount of them, but the moments of deeper characterization for Nightingale are gut punches. I don't know if it's intentional or not but I also read the tossed off comment about "seeing if her daughter has learned to fly yet" in the next paragraph as Nightingale hinting that despite his casual tone he is very much alive to the nuances of that relationship and will be including it in his future calculations vis a vis Helena.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:04 AM on March 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

I was talking to Mr. Machine about this, and we came to an agreement that having both the Order of the Rose and the Americans was unnecessary, kinda like JK Rowling having both the Horcruxes and the Deathly Hallows in the last book.

Like, I get the idea that this book is not only about the different ways that you can be a family, but also the different ways that you can do magic, so it's important to have the Folly and the Order of the Rose and the Americans and the Chinese wushu sword stuff that Sahra is getting. It's not clear to me, though, what the Americans really added -- they don't do anything for the family side of the ledger, and they don't add much to the different-schools-of-magic ledger. We already know from prior books that the Americans had their magic folks, after all. And we have the Order of the Rose puncturing the Folly being THE HOME OF BRITISH WIZARDRY or whatever. And we also have Sahra and her swordsmen boyfriend.

I don't think the Americans do a lot in terms of the plot, either. From what I remember, the main things the Americans do is delay Chorley from killing the girl who was at the party, and keep Tyburn from straight-on murdering Chorley in the big set piece. I'm not sure I even buy the latter, as funny as the scene was. Chorley came after Tyburn IN HER HOME in her ZONE OF POWER in order MURDER HER DAUGHTER, using a sniper as his opening play, and then showing up to go man versus goddess and rip those bricks off the front of her home to boot.

We've heard all kinds of stories about how ruthless Tyburn is. Magical norms be damned, I think she parks any Americans in the corner to wait for the Met, and proceeds to do her best to make Chorley a proper faceless man.

(In a way, as much as I love Lady Ty, I kinda wish that the fun-size tin of [SPOILER REDACTED] from the next book had shown up here as Chorley's plan for taking out Lady Ty, because I would've loved to see that. It's book six! If killing Nightingale is off the table, how about a serious attempt at killing one of the major Rivers????)
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:49 AM on March 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I do wonder what Lesley might have managed.

There's a very, very interesting story, I think, about the version of these six books where it's Peter who gets Punch in his head, and Lesley who ends up as Nightingale's apprentice. I can't see Peter ever deciding to work with Chorley, or Chorley ever wanting to work with him. But does Lesley still end up working for Chorley if she never lost her face?
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:00 AM on March 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

Maybe it's supposed to connect to the notion that the old, corruption-prone, method of endless little "arrangements" is the past, and can't be how things work anymore?

I do think that this is a large part of it. This version of the London Metropolitan Police is well run enough that one low-ranking bad apple can't easily derail an investigation, because that modern bureaucracy (that thing that seems to be the bane of every cop genre piece) can exist to give people necessary oversight and not just be red tape. Even when Peter is being interrogated by DI Pollock over Lesley - he's clearly not enjoying himself, but also he's not outwardly aggressive towards the need to be debriefed, not demanding information, and Pollock is not an antagonist. DPS is not the bad guy - while this is a universe where DPS punishes cops, they also aren't necessarily gunning to do so - and Peter willingly cooperates with them, both to explain the copious amounts of property damage and to help catch Lesley. And everyone else thinks that Peter should cooperate with DPS, too.*

But it's not like Tyburn is completely locked out - she still has Folsom to make sure that attention is shifted away from Olivia. And it's not like the Met or Peter are completely idealized, either - Peter gets hit with that DWB, and Peter is a good guy, but he's also not above lying to get his way.

*This is a bit of a digression, but as a real-life contrast - earlier this year it was revealed that Chicago Alderman Danny Solis had been wearing a wire for the FBI for two years. The alderman for the 19th ward - a cop neighborhood - had the official response of 'my constituents understand that wearing a wire leads to someone kicking your ass'

But does Lesley still end up working for Chorley if she never lost her face?

I have so many feelings about this, about how Lesley chose to be a cop because she thinks it's what she's good at, and what her requirements for being a good police officer are, but I think I'm going to save most of them for Lies Sleeping.

There's that point where Beverley points out that it's Peter who decided that the Folly should be integrated into the modern met - then wonders if Nightingale is really on board. And I think he is now - because of that passage that wretch points out, and the scene where he arrests Reynard with the proper caution (and seems so proud of himself for managing it, too!), the inviting Lady Helena over for tea, and his proper use of 'Stakeholder Engagement'. But Nightingale also had to be convinced that more compassion and fewer extralegal paramilitary raids were a good idea first.

Lesley has her own ideas of what a proper police force looks like, and I don't think she would have made the same choices. But also, I don't think she'd have been interested in magic in the first place unless she needed it for some reason. She fits the 'tough and clever' criteria, so Nightingale might have approached her, but I have a hard time imagining her thinking getting involved with magic stuff is a good idea. She's a lot less impressed with Nightingale than Peter is, and a lot more alarmed by the power that the rivers have. It would take some finagling to put her in a position where she'd be helping Tyburn out, I think, but she's also the lowly constable who was fairly successful in impeding an investigation - managing it because she's great at her job.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:49 PM on March 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Between talking about Chorley making mistakes he wouldn't otherwise make and talking about Lesley's general sneakiness and competence, I think I realized something: some of this stuff is definitely all on Chorley, but at least some of the screw ups are things that Lesley should have caught, too. If anyone is feeding Chorley bad information about whether or not Peter would blame Lady Ty for the water-filled basement, or not being able to figure out what Reynard is driving, it's her. And yeah, it's possible that Lesley just sketched out the basics on Lady Ty and Peter and Chorley made a shit decision, but with Reynard? That's definitely the sort of thing that Lesley the cop should have thought about. There's some possible reasons for this:
a) Lesley's just not as good as she thinks she is. Which, I don't know, just seems kind of unsatisfying.
b) I don't get the impression that Lesley is trying to undermine Chorley, but there's signs that maybe she just doesn't care very much about what they're doing, and therefore not really paying attention.
c) Lesley assumes that Peter is a lot more paranoid than he actually is (assuming that the staff would be trapped, for example) - because that's the way that Lesley thinks. It's possible that Lesley thinks Peter would just blame Lady Ty because she'd blame Lady Ty - all of the rivers are just monsters and knowing the other (much less caring about them) has never been Lesley's thing. And maybe she underestimated Reynard for the same reason - he's a little fey scumbag, nothing to really worry about or pay attention to.

Of the Teacher/Apprentice combos, we have Nightingale and Peter - where they're definitely working together and learning from each other; Lady Helena and Caroline - where Lady Caroline wants to be free of her overbearing mother but is keeping her head down until she gets what she wants; and Chorley and Lesley - which we don't really get to see very much of, but while it seems like it's a parallel to Nightingale and Peter, might be closer to Lady Helena and Caroline - only with familial structures being what they are and Lady Helena less obviously murderous, Lady Caroline is a lot more sympathetic.

I think I agree that Lady Helena and Lady Caroline add a lot more to the book than the Americans do - the Americans seem to be there mostly to bring Kim Reynolds back in and tease at some X-files based shenanigans in a future novella, and while I like the new details of the American wizarding society (well, half of it - I'm still wondering what the northern UPenn folks are up to) as Blackwater, it didn't really tie into the themes of family and learning the way that the Linden-Limmer's relationship does.

The historical notes about the Americans were also interesting, but after the discussion we had in Foxglove Summer about the implications of bombing from altitude (and that possibly meaning strategically bombing gas chambers and railways) versus a ground approach, and whether or not that would save lives . . . I could have done without a throwaway line about Nightingale wanting to use nukes. Like, I realize he missed out on watching Threads on live TV, but come on.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:41 PM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Dinty what line are you referring to?
posted by Wretch729 at 2:14 PM on March 27, 2019

I've got the library version of this book out so I can't C&P the passage, but it's where they're discussing American non-involvement in Ettersberg with MI5 - Nightingale bitterly mentions that the American wizards probably knew about the Manhattan Project, and Peter has an aside that he personally thought that it was better that parts of Southern Germany didn't glow in the dark.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:32 PM on March 27, 2019

Oh right, I remember that. I see your point.
posted by Wretch729 at 4:33 PM on March 27, 2019

Sorry -I’ve been reading these posts sporadically so I don’t get spoiled of plot points, so maybe I missed this discussion - are we skipping The Furthest Station novella? I think it takes place between Foxglove Summer and Hanging Tree. I’m reading it now.
posted by greermahoney at 8:45 AM on March 28, 2019

We're doing Furthest Station next - I switched from canon timeline to publishing order because I know I was like 'wtf who is Jennifer Vaughan' when I read in timeline order.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:57 AM on March 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just so no one thinks I got hit by a bus, I'll be absent from the next couple threads because I haven't read past Hanging Tree. My wife and I started reading them together (a reread for me) and I promised I would wait and let her catch up so for once I wouldn't know everything that was about to happen.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:21 AM on March 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

I’ve just started this and I’m pretty sad because the audiobook wasn’t available at any of my libraries, so I’m reading the ebook and I miss Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s voice.
posted by greermahoney at 12:08 PM on March 30, 2019

Boooo! That’s a terrible situation!

Speaking of the audiobooks, does anybody else miss the little jazz flourishes at the end of chapters? They just kind of stopped, in Foxglove Summer, I think.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:20 PM on March 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh!! I’ve listened to them all until this one. Yes, I loved the jazz flourishes.
posted by greermahoney at 10:08 PM on March 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’m traveling and signed up for Audible just so I can try out the audiobooks. I have this one and Broken Homes, plus the little freebie story that they have. I’m excited to hear them for the first time!
posted by PussKillian at 8:45 AM on March 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

Putting it in here, and maybe it doesn't belong, but I'm so excited -- Aaronovitch sells four more books in the ROL series.

And there's a mention in there about how the next novella is scheduled in June 2019 (!), with a new full-length novel this fall (!!!!!).

Granted, we've seen publishing schedules moved back on these books, and maybe it's a typo, but I'm stoked. I think I'd read stuff form years and years ago saying that Aaronovitch was thinking of this as a six book series, so I was expecting Nightingale and maybe the Faceless Man to die in this book, and for book seven to be Peter and Lesley going one-on-one. But it clearly didn't turn out that way, and hurray, more Peter! More Beverly! More Abigail!
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:34 AM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

And there's a mention in there about how the next novella is scheduled in June 2019 (!), with a new full-length novel this fall (!!!!!).

I think that's true - especially of The October Man (which I held back from adding to the schedule because I trust no one's dates, but is due to come out the same week we finish with the comics).

I'm super stoked to see where the series goes next, especially after Lies Sleeping. And The October Man is going to be the first non-Peter POV of the world (Tobias Winter, Peter's German counterpart). The other semi-rumored novellas are 1920's Nightingale POV, Kimberly Reynolds POV, and What Abigail Did That Summer (!!!!). I can honestly take or leave most of those, but ABIGAIL POV.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:13 AM on April 10, 2019

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