Monday, September 29, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: A Penny for the Hangman by Tom Savage


In Tom Savage’s chilling novel of suspense, an ambitious reporter is beckoned to an island paradise for the story of a lifetime. But this scoop might just be the death of her.

Fifty years ago, on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, two teenagers born to privilege were convicted of slaughtering their parents in cold blood. Today the men are free and a Hollywood movie has been made about the murders. For Karen Tyler, an eager New York journalist, the case is irresistible. She has been invited to the Virgin Islands for an interview that’s too good to pass up . . . and sounds too good to be true.

Karen packs her bikini and her digital recorder and follows an ingeniously designed trail that leads her to a wealthy, mysterious figure. The man claims to be one of the notorious boys, but Karen soon learns that all is not as it seems. On this isolated utopia of sun and surf, a young reporter far from home fights for the truth—and for her life. Because the shocking secret behind the infamous atrocities has remained hidden all these years. And the killing isn’t over yet.



Our day (ok, maybe my day) had the Menendez brothers.  Karen Tyler, journalist had Rodney Harper and Wulf Anderman, two boys (15 and 14) who were extremely intelligent and banded together at school as a shield against the relentless teasing and bullying of their classmates.

Wulf kind of goes along with whatever Rodney says and does.  More's the pity because Rodney is a sociopath.  A Penny for the Hangman opens with an excerpt from Rodney's diary:

"This is a day unlike any other day, ever, in the history of the world.  It is my birthday, and it is my new beginning. I, Rodney Lawson Harper, am 15 years old today, and I have a plan. ... On this day, this BIRTH day, I promise DEATH, the most famous event in the history of the Virgin Islands.  Oh, what a triumph it will be!  A glistening, wet, red triumph!"
Did I mention Rodney thinks he's probably the smartest person on the face of the earth?  And that he believes Wulf will do whatever Rodney wants because his friend loves him?  Could no one see this coming?

Less than one year later, on Friday, March 13, 1959, Rodney's plan was put into action.  He and Wulf conspired to kill both sets of their parents.  When the dust settled, the housekeeper was dead as well.  Wulf did not exactly follow the plan, which resulted in both boys being apprehended by the police, tried for murder and sent to separate prisons in the US.

IMO, Rodney is just plain evil.  Make that E-V-I-L.  Mr. Savage does an excellent job of leaving us a breadcrumb trail to follow as we wind ourselves deeper into the madness of Rodney's new plan, and Karen's adventure/nightmare.  Karen believes the man who sent her the ticket to the Virgin Islands to get the 'real, untold story' about the case is, in fact, one of the boys, now grown up.  She just doesn't know which one.

Even with such mystery, I cannot see traveling overseas on my own, to meet someone the world considers to be a convicted murderer.  Then there is the fact that she has to go visit him on a private island only accessible by boat.  I'd be leaving breadcrumbs of my own, notes with people of where I was going, etc. etc., in order to have some sort of trail.  It's a little stretch to believe a savvy New Yorker would go along with that, but the lure of that particular story, especially in light of the in-book movie being filmed of the crime, would have been difficult to pass by.

Karen's best friend's 'questionable' boyfriend has followed Karen down to the Islands, thinking to trump her story for himself, to get the glory and the byline.  Stupid.

As Karen is drawn into a killer's web, so Mr. Savage draws us into A Penny for the Hangman.  Pretty soon, none of us can leave, even if we wanted to.  Karen learns something about her past, that is at once disturbing and wonderful.  Am I going to tell you?  In a word, "No."

Why?  Because that's like telling someone every little thing that goes on in the Haunted House.  There's no surprise.  There's no thrill.  And that would be a crime.  If you like thrillers, and can stand a healthy (?) dose of creepy, you have got to read A Penny for the Hangman.



Tom Savage is the author of six previous novels and numerous short stories. His books have been published in fifteen countries, and his bestselling novel Valentine was made into a Warner Bros. film. Raised in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, he now lives in New York City, where he worked for many years at Murder Ink®, the world’s first mystery bookstore.


(Disclosure:  I received an e-copy of this book from the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours in Exchange for my unbiased review.)

Click the logo just above to follow the rest of the tour, including guest posts and author interviews.


  1. This seems like a perfectly sinister, creepy and perfect mystery. But one thing is that the idea doesn't seem like one I would enjoy much, but thanks for sharing all the same!

  2. I think I can stand a "healthy" dose of creepy so I'll be checking this one out!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.