Hang Wire by Adam Christopher
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Angry Robot
Release date: January 29 2014
Source: ARC from publisher
The nitty-gritty: A three-ring circus of craziness and complex world-building with a mystery that reveals itself gradually.
Highwire belongs to the circus, is part of it. That Highwire knows nothing of his life before the circus, that he has no memory of anything but the circus, is inconsequential. The circus is his home, but his real work lies elsewhere, after the crowds have gone, after the carnival machines go to sleep. Out there, in the city, Highwire has a job to do.
This was my first Adam Christopher book, and from what I’ve heard from other reviewers, it’s a bit of a departure from the author’s other books. Hang Wire was one of the craziest and most maddening book I’ve read in some time. It also had some of the coolest world-building I’ve encountered in a while, but that world-building was complicated. What is this story all about, you ask? Good question! I’ll bet that five different readers could give you five different answers. Hang Wire has all these things between its pages: a serial killer, a killer circus, earthquakes, golems, exploding fortune cookies, a ballroom-dancing beach bum, Hawaiian and Korean gods, Celtic Dancers, a mysterious coin, and burnt dead people who come back to life—sort of. Somehow, Christopher brings all these disparate things together to create a story that spans decades. This isn’t a high-speed plot, but rather a slowly unfolding mystery that makes the reader work to piece things together.
Although the plot is a bit complicated, I’ll try to break it down for you. Our main character Ted, just an ordinary guy living in San Francisco, gets a surprise on his birthday. At a Chinese restaurant, Ted cracks open a fortune cookie, only to have it explode in his face. The cookie spews out hundreds of fortunes (just go with it, OK?) that all say the same thing: You are the master of every situation. Ted passes out, and when he finally comes to, something strange has happened. Ted starts to fall asleep all the time for no reason, and he begins to hear someone whispering—but when he turns around, no one is there. One day he wakes up with blood on his hands and no memory of where he’s been, and then things really start to get weird.
Parallel to Ted’s story is the tale of a circus performer named Highwire who seems to have a secret agenda; a serial killer that the city has dubbed Hang Wire, due to way he kills his victims; and a dance teacher named Bob who seems to know a lot more than he should. When these plot threads finally start to twist together, it’s a race against time to save not only Ted’s girlfriend Alison, but the city of San Francisco itself.
I want to talk about the characters first, because I found them fascinating. I think my favorites were Benny, a co-worker of Ted’s, and Bob, the beach bum/dance teacher who teaches women ballroom dancing on the beach. Both Benny and Bob turn out to be, well, let’s just say they aren’t who you think they are. It was also hard to tell which side of good and evil they fell on, since the story is so twisty, but rest assured, I really enjoyed their characters.
The character of Joel was interesting because he is very pivotal to the story. Christopher tells his tale by inserting short chapters throughout the book that eventually explain who Joel is, and what he’s trying to do. Each chapter is set in a different time and place, and often the chapters revolve around historical events, like the disastrous San Francisco earthquake of 1906. I didn’t like Joel at all, because well, he’s the bad guy, but I could appreciate his role in the story, which gives Hang Wire an interesting framework and explains much of what’s happening in the present.
If I had any issues with this story, it would have to be the overcrowding of events. So much happens and there are so many characters (for example, there is a character named “Hang Wire” and another one named “Highwire”), that I sometimes felt as if Christopher had three or four separate story ideas that he was trying to meld into one. It does take a while before things come together, and I think it was somewhere around page 159 that I finally had an “ah ha!” moment and the pieces started to fall into place. For patient readers, Hang Wire will be a delight. The author is like a pointillist painter, dabbing one dot of paint on his story at a time, and slowly illuminating the evil that is threatening to take over the city, and the consequences if that evil isn’t stopped.
But despite the plot overload, there are so many cool moments that show off the author’s imagination: the unsettling and creepy atmosphere of the circus, the increasing terror of the Hang Wire killer, and the overall feeling that even in the mundane moments of the story, something bad might happen at any moment. The author smartly adds some comic relief in the form of several characters, which was a welcome change of pace, but even as I laughed at these parts, I did so hesitantly. Bad things are happening in San Francisco, and no one in the story is ever really safe. If you are looking for atmospheric and creative storytelling, Hang Wire could be just the ticket.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
You can find Hang Wire here: