First published back in March of 1994 under the pseudonym Gavin Newman, prolific pulp horror author Guy N Smith released his hauntingly downbeat thriller ‘The Hangman’ through Piatkus Books in hardback format.  To help promote the release of the novel, Smith also penned a ‘Hangman’ related short story entitled ‘The Executioner’ which appeared in the third issue of the short-lived horror fiction magazine ‘Frighteners’ (1991).  The Guy N Smith fanzine ‘Graveyard Rendezvous’ also ran a ‘Special Execution Issue’ at the time of the novels release.

DLS Synopsis:
Lawrence Prendergast is a loner whose agoraphobic lifestyle and deep-routed social inadequacies (as well as other such social and mental peculiarities), has left him as somewhat of an outcast.  Now approaching middle age, he lives with his widowed mother in their home, locked away from the rest of the world.

Since childhood, Lawrence has held an unhealthy obsession with the gallows.  His morbid fascination with the hanging process has been carried along with him all his life.  Furthermore, Lawrence’s years of suffering punishment and humiliation at his former school, carried out by the sadistic headmaster, Prebendary Edward Wilson, has left a permanent mark on his life.  The unfair treatment and wrongful dismissal from his job at the local bank only furthered his burning hatred for the world.  And then the abortion of his only child was just too much.

There’s only so much a man can endure.  Lawrence Prendergast has been pushed too far and endured too much pain.  And now its time that people paid for their crimes against him.  Converting out the old wartime bunker at the bottom of the garden is a job that has a clear goal for him.  For inside the dark, soundproofed confines of the bunker, Lawrence is erecting his very own revenge for all those who have wronged him.  Here, Lawrence Prendergast will sentence each one of those who wronged him to the gallows...

DLS Review:
Smith starts the novel off with a gritty downbeat storyline that drags the reader in immediately with the harsh treatment that Lawrence underwent during his time at school, his subsequent employment at the local bank (shadowing what Guy himself was thrust into, following in the family profession) and his failed relationship with his one-time girlfriend Janice Peters.  Often as the result of his social inabilities and general sloth-ish nature; Smith paints a vivid picture of an uncharismatic, charmless and oafish character, whose self-obsessed personality is instantly dislikeable.

From this acorn of repeated unfair treatment against such a pitifully incompetent character, Smith masterfully builds up a tense wall of resentment against the world for Lawrence.  The characterisation is superb, with an array of well-developed characteristics for Prendergast, carefully sewn together to form a complex individual who will form the very crux of the tale.

From here on the pace of the storyline is cranked up a gear.  The carefully plotted plans of revenge are delivered in a coldblooded and calculated fashion.  Lawrence seems to remain somewhat emotionless throughout the ordeal, until he gets his victim inside his converted chamber.  At this point Smith lets loose on a flurry of gruesomely graphic depictions of violence and sadistic torture.  Indeed, ‘The Hangman’ certainly does not disappoint on the over-the-top levels of gore and perverse violence.  When it comes, it comes in abundance.

As the storyline progresses, so Smith weaves in the character of Detective Sergeant Adam Kent, and his suspicions towards the possible connections between Lawrence’s victims disappearances.  This parallel running sub-storyline brings together the second aspect of the plot – that of the police’s investigation and response.

The ending is an elaborately pulpy concoction of sadistic violence and mental trauma thrust to the very forefront of the storyline.  The novel takes on an even darker nature as it spirals towards its gritty and downbeat conclusion. At this point, Smith wraps the tale up nicely, without seeing the need to pander towards anything other than a brutal and impactful finale.

All in all this is a spectacular show of how to cross a gritty thriller with the over-the-top elements of a pulp horror novel.  Pure edge-of-the-seat reading from beginning to end.  Superb!

The novel runs for a total of 227 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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