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The Hanging Artist by Jon Steinhagen. Book review

July 11, 2019

Book cover of the Hanging artist

Franz Kafka wakes up in his hospital bed, well and ravenous, to find his attentive companion is no other than Gregor, the salesman who turned into a cockroach in Kafka’s story ‘Metamorphosis’. Kafka, aided by Gregor (invisible to anyone but Kafka) and the mysterious Inspektor Beide, must sleuth his way through a series of peculiar murders which appear to be strikingly similar to the performance of a music hall artist who apparently commits suicide every night.

The Hanging Artist is a love letter to the imaginative, off kilter and ethereal writing of Kafka. A giant cockroach, with an utterly disgusting sense of what counts as gourmet food (do not use Google to find out. I did and what I saw can never be undone), a police person capable of shifting gender in a blink, and a completely bonkers series of encounters and dialogue which would not be out of place in a mashup of Grand Hotel Budapest and The Master and Margarita, all add up to an engaging and sinister romp you do not want to end.

It is not an easy task to bring a sense of a revered author’s writing to life without it being found wanting, but Jon Steinhagen’s prose has incredible poise and sensitivity when it comes to reinventing the genre that is Franz Kafka.

As well as recreating the style of writing Kafka aficionados would recognise, Steinhagen has crafted, by any standards, a multi-layered, and brilliantly plotted murder mystery that keeps on giving.

The dialogue is witty and madcap, as well as being poignant in all the right places.

If The Hanging Artist might appear at first glance not to be your cup of tea, take a peek at the first paragraph. I defy you not to get hooked.

The Hanging Artist was a gem worth getting hold of, because of the time I spent chortling, then being stunned into silence by a growing sense of disquiet, only to have the tension broken again. Besides which, who could resist a talking insect with a personality as far from Disney anthropomorphism as you could get.

The Hanging Artist was courtesy of Abbadon via NetGalley.



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