The Hanging Women by John Mead – Book Review

The Hanging Women by John Mead – Book Review

The Hanging Women

The Hanging Woman by John Mead

The Hanging Women

Author – John Mead
Publisher – Book Guild Pub
Pages – 200
Released – 28th February 2018
ISBN-13 – 978-1912362059
Format – ebook, paperback
Reviewer – Stacey
Rating – 3.5 Stars
I received a free copy of this book


A historical crime thriller set in 1886 Chicago; the power house of America, a sink of corruption and vice which is haunted by riots and gangland killings. A story of weak men and strong women.

Jack Stevens discovers the bodies of two women, Philomena Blackstaff and Mary Walsh, tied together and hung by their ankles in a position resembling the symbol for treachery as depicted on tarot cards. Though retired and now wealthy, Stevens is an ex-sheriff and involves himself in the subsequent investigation.

As a result of Jack ‘stealing’ Philomena’s diary and his association with the Pinkerton detective agency, it is discovered that Mary Walsh worked undercover for the Pinkertons, investigating the Knights of Labour (the fastest growing workers’ rights movements in America of the late 1800’s). The women had been working together, tracing the man who was selling guns and dynamite to the more extremest factions of the workers movement. This led them to Ruby’s, a secret ‘nightclub for deviants’, where Stevens and Inspector O’Leary believe the pair fell foul of the man they were looking for, gang leader Joseph Mannheim.

With the May 4th Haymarket riots and bombings looming, Stevens must uncover the truth about The Hanging Women before it’s too late.

Review 2017

15th April 1886 Chicago. Jack Stevens, ex-sheriff, finds two women, one black, one white, hanging upside down, facing one another, tied by their alternate ankles and their hands bound behind the others back, in a derelict warehouse beside the Chicago river.

The women have been dead for a few hours, though it would seem they were hung and whipped around the buttocks and thighs whilst still alive. After having a search of the scene, Jack calls Inspector O’Leary.

Over the course of the next 18 days the police, with Jacks help, tried to find out all about the women, what brought them together and who murdered them. With social unrest, gangs, and mafia type families, this is going to be a hard case to solve, but Jack won’t rest until he has all the answers.

I’m not a great lover of historical novels, but I do love a police procedure/thriller-Esq book so this was right up my street. What is unusual about this book is that the main protagonist, Jack Stevens, is actually quite unlikable. He’s a drunk, he’s arrogant, he’s an adulterer, and it’s his way or no-way. How a man can conduct an investigation when he drinks himself into a stupor most of the time is beyond me.

The case of the two women was interesting. How did a shy Reverend’s daughter and piano teacher, Philomena Blackstaff and a woman spying on the Knights of Labour (workers’ rights movements) for the Pinkertons, known as Mary Walsh, end up together? What brought these two women together and who wanted them dead?

The story interweaves a few pots together, including that of Jack’s wife Martha, who is also having an affair. You can tell that the two stories are going to come to a head at some point.

I did find the book confusing sometimes and had to re-read parts at others. I can’t say I cared much for Jack Steven’s either. However, the setting was perfect, I could imagine being stood in Chicago in the 1880’s. I also found myself with a desire to know what had happened to these two women and couldn’t put the book down until I did.

Reviewed by Stacey

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About the Author

John Mead

John was born in the mid-fifties in Dagenham, London, on part of the largest council estate ever built, and was the first pupil from his local secondary modern school to attend university. He has now taken early retirement to write, having spent the first part of his life working in education and the public sector. He was the director of a college, a senior school inspector for a local authority, and was head of a unit for young people with physical and mental health needs. When he is not travelling, going to the theatre or the pub, he writes.

His inspiration for his debut novel came whilst attending a lecture in Denver about the history of the American midwest, describing a time and place that was very different from that espoused by popular culture, which started him thinking this would make a excellent period in which to set a crime story.

His book describes how Chicago was a prototype of much that we consider both good and bad in the current age, it had a vibrancy and decadence that allowed a few enterprising individuals to prosper whilst violence and intolerance held back many others. The situation for some African Americans and women was improving but it was still a time when to be anything other than white and male made you a second class citizen. The city was the manufacturing and transport hub of America, the vast influx of immigrants swelling its already booming population brought great wealth but also corruption and criminality. The midwest and Chicago typified a way of life, the ‘gun culture’ which is a euphemism for individualism, from which much of modern American social values have grown.

John is currently working on a trilogy of novels set in modern day London. These police procedurals examine the darker side of modern life in the East End of the city: a Whitechapel noir.

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6 Responses

  1. I don’t typically like historical fiction but I don’t think I’ve ever tried a historical crime thriller! This actually sounds really good!

  2. Tasha says:

    I really am not one for historical fiction but this sounds really interesting and I want to read it.

  3. Heidi says:

    I am always intrigued by Historical Crime Thrillers. This one sounds interesting!