Timothy Blake isn’t your typical FBI civilian consultant. He’s a cannibal who solves crimes for the FBI purely so he can be given death row inmates to consume. Behind closed doors, he’s constantly starving and poor as dirt, solving riddles online—originally as a method of stealing credit card numbers—but soon it’s part of his personality. He’s also a genius who catches the eye of Houston FBI Director Peter Luzhin. When a 14 year old boy vanishes on his way home from school, the FBI employs Blake to help them out. But has Blake finally met his match?
Hangman by Australian author Jack Heath is the start of a trilogy I devoured in just over a month, alongside its sequels Hunter and Hideout. I came across Hangman because I was lured by the prospect of a book that’s basically the midpoint between Hannibal Lecter and Dexter Morgan. Having already read two of the Hannibal books this year, I thought, “Why not read more cannibal books this year?” Is there such a thing as reading too much cannibal fiction in one year? How did I accidentally get my reading mojo back with such a specific subgenre of crime novels? Without answering these questions, I can only say I raced through the Christopher Ragland-narrated Timothy Blake trilogy. Ragland’s Texan accent makes listening to the trilogy a complete delight. I got myself absolutely immersed into this series. “But, surely,” you start, wide-eyed and confused. “The series can’t possibly remain good over three books…can it? The Dexter series devolved into hot garbage far too quickly. Does this?”
The simple answer: No. While the premise of Hangman kept me hooked and listening, I kept half-heartedly expecting the later books to devolve as quickly as Dexter in the Dark. But there’s no sociopaths-are-actually-all-possessed-by-Moloch in this series, no sirree. Hunter and Hideout both work together, with Hideout continuing just after Hunter, but you could probably read them as standalones if you really wanted to. The third book is probably the most disturbing; it really did escalate things and changed the simple crime-solving dynamic of the first two, but that was expected after Hunter‘s explosive ending. While the first two are about solving regular murders (the first is about a 14 year old boy’s disappearance, and the second about the murder of a college professor, the third novel escalates things and is more action-thrillery in that it’s about working out who the killer is from a bunch of dark web killers who all live together. Despite this, and that the third was probably my least favourite, the ending more than made up for it, which is both an ironic conclusion and an open-ending suggesting the potential for more Timothy Blake books…and I’m all for that. As long as Christopher Ragland narrates, of course.
I feel like this would’ve been a different experience if I hadn’t been listening to the audiobooks. Thanks to the nature of the medium, I didn’t focus as much on the riddles that preface each chapter—it took me waaay too long to realise that they foreshadow the contents of each chapter. Another thing is character names: it took until writing this review to discover Hangman‘s FBI Director’s name isn’t Peter Lousen, but Peter Luzhin. I assumed it was Dutch. Mate, Dostoevsky’s on my TBR, I didn’t realise! I also had to look up the spelling of Special Agent Reece Thistle, Blake’s love interest.
Thistle and Blake are a great dynamic, and their parallels having grown up in the group home together and whether our adult fuck-ups are due to nature or nurture is a fascinating analysis. Both have similar upbringings, similar trauma, except Thistle works for the FBI and Blake is a small-time criminal genius cannibal. I greatly enjoyed Heath’s writing about class differences between characters, about class privileges and all it entails. While Blake is definitely not a good character, his criticisms of the non-working class are pretty damn spot on. Of course, there’s the will-they-won’t-they and the will-she-find-out-his-secret, and their relationship is tied up, not neatly, bittersweet, the most apt send-off.
The revelations in each of the books did tend to surprise me. Hunter and Hideout both had big reveals that linked to seemingly inconsequential cases from earlier in their respective books, but I believe the reveal in Hangman was the most shocking. I did predict the killer for Hideout, but not for the reason I expected. That was way off. Also, the Hideout ending is a bit of a political clusterfuck: a just ending for the antagonist of that book, but so action-thrillery I can imagine Liam Neeson and Donnie Wahlberg and directed by Michael Bay, except that Michael Bay would ruin all the depth of Blake, so perhaps I’m getting a little too ahead of myself. You’d also think Blake would have a vague knowledge of Orwell, too, but apparently not.
If you’re not a fan of gore, well, 1. Perhaps a series about a cannibal isn’t for you, 2. Fuck, Blake gets the short end of the stick, and 3. Maybe don’t read the meat grinder scene. It didn’t bother me so much, mainly because Heath writes it so well that I just wanted to keep listening and listening, stunned, like holy shit how the fuck is Blake going to get out of this? Hideout is about dark web criminals: it gets a bit fucking dark. But it’s nothing Blake doesn’t predict won’t happen. He doesn’t expect himself a happy ending; despite, or maybe in spite of his genius, he knows he won’t end his life happy and smiling with Thistle. He understands it, but he doesn’t wallow in it, except when he’s reached the point of no return, and even then, it’s for a different reason than you’d think. Is Blake really as bad as you think he is? Yes, in a sense: He does want to save people without thank-yous. Thistle is his voice of reason. But he still doesn’t care about most people, he doesn’t feel guilty about his hunger issues. It’s just hunger to him. But even then, goddamnit, he doesn’t eat a single person in Hideout and, Jack Heath, don’t you think you’re a liar marketing this series with a cannibal protagonist but then you have him not eat a single person?? It’s okay, mate, you’re off the hook, it is alluded to in a certain fiery scene.
The first book, Hangman, is a tautly-paced crime thriller, and it left me wanting more, so I read the rest this month. As you do. You could say I was hungry for more. I devoured them. Yummy. The book is both horrifyingly memorable and full of dark humour. I liked that an Australian author wrote a Texan setting in a way that I felt like I was in Houston. The mystery elements kept me intrigued. The revelations were (mostly) a surprise. Christopher Ragland was perfect for the narration, except for his shouting scenes, which kinda threw me out of the story, but otherwise was spot-on. I think I’ll read this series again, mainly because there’s so much more to get from another reading. The riddles are better suited for a physical reading, but are still suitable for the audiobook lover. There was random political messaging that I don’t think a working-class, anti-college cannibal like Blake would have used the terms and had an awareness of, but I can understand why Heath wrote it that way. I’ll definitely read more by this author.
As an aside, I read five books this month, two of them being of the Timothy Blake series. Five. The last time I read five books in a month was probably during the MS Readathon in primary school (the equivalent to Americans and their book pizza vouchers, but with more goodwill). I blame an injury: apparently that, tossed with ruthlessly minimising social media, will increase your read-count for the year, who’d’ve thought it? Here’s to reading what you love.