The Hanging Artist

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Jun 2019

Member Reviews

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.
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The Hanging Artist is my type of book. With Haruki Murakami being my favourite writer I adore surrealist fiction, however, we rarely get a decent, incandescent idea. Steinhagen pays homage to Kafka and his most celebrated work, The Metamorphosis by putting him in the role of a private investigator who is ably assisted by giant cockroach, Gregor, from the aforementioned book. It's a character-driven novel but that's not to say that the plot is weak or unengaging; in actual fact, the plot is intelligent, original and incredibly compelling, at least to me, and centres around the supernatural.

It's well written with buckets of suspense and a truly unique and unforgettable cast. It's incredibly quirky, Kafkaesque and has some thoroughly fun and entertaining passages to it. Those who haven't read Kafka will still find this accessible, but I loved the references to him and his works throughout for fans to pick up on. From the first page, I was immersed in the world and it became so engaging I read through the entirety of it in a few short hours. The conclusion was actually quite poignant and thought-provoking, the best kind, about life and its unpredictability with a profound message about treasuring the moments we have together.

This is absurdist fiction at its finest, and I certainly hope it is the first in a series. Many thanks to Abaddon Books for an ARC.
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‘Franz Kafka awoke from a dream and assumed that what had felt to be real had also been a dream, but he was mistaken, and he didn’t know how to feel about that.’

A deliciously surreal trip into a truly Kafkaesque world, and I totally was hooked from the first page. The year is 1924 and, on his deathbed with tuberculosis, Franz Kafka awakes the next morning in the sanitorium to find that he is completely healthy. An odd state of affairs indeed, as no doctor or family come in to his room that morning to see how he is doing. Instead, who does appear is a giant insect named Gregor, the incarnation of the central character from Kafka’s most famous work, The Metamorphosis. Struggling to come to terms with this rather bizarre turn of events, Kafka is then visited by a mysterious character called Inspector Beide from an organisation called the ICPC which is investigating a series of murders, 23 victims in total so far. Oh, and Beide has the habit of changing genders, from male to female and back again, at any given moment and totally outwith his/her ability to control it.

The plot is totally surreal; there are moments of wonderful comedy and the exchanges between Kafka and Beide, and between Kafka and the insect, are laugh out loud funny at times. As the plot develops it becomes almost Kafka-meets-Poe as Kafka, having been asked to investigate the deaths, closes in on the truth. But, in terms of what we are reading, what the heck is this thing called ‘truth’? The book is littered with characters, objects, scenes that will just leave your mind boggling: the pair of nuns who keep appearing on a train, one of them eating walnuts; the book Kafka buys in a bookshop entitled ‘How Not to be a Successful Detective’; references to Kafka’s own story A Hunger Artist, which may or may not have some connection to what we are reading… And so it goes on. You don’t really need to have any prior knowledge of Kafka’s works to enjoy this, but some awareness of the general themes and ideas are probably advisable. But then, the main reason for picking this up is because it piqued your interest, right?

Cosy crime novel, or Golden Age crime novel, this is not. Nor is it noir - Scandi, Tartan or any other hue. It just, well, is. Half way through the book Inspector Beide declares:
‘I think we’re on the right track, or at least we’re on a track that could be parallel to the right track. At any rate, we’re on a track, and we’ve learned so much.’  

Expect the unexpected, open your mind and just go with the flow. I totally loved this and it left me, with an ending that is actually quite moving, not only thinking about dreams and reality, about the absurdity of life, but also about the moments we should cherish and savour. Unlike anything else I’ve read for a long time, and totally deserving of 5 stars. 

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)
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 "Franz Kafka investigates the supernatural with the aid of a giant cockroach"
This is the buddy cop team-up I never knew I needed in my life until I read those words. As expected, it is quirky, odd and surreal; very Kafka-esque, but also incredibly fun with moments of unexpected silliness. You don't need to be a fan or familiar with Kafka's work to enjoy.  It is still very readable with breadcrumbs scattered throughout for the devotees.  The only minor downside ... and these are words I never thought I would ever say ... it needed more cockroach!!! Some of the interactions between Kafka and Gregor were truly priceless.  Highly recommended.
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What happens when Kafka miraculously survived TB and was asked to help investigate a string of murders with the help of a giant cockroach? 
Just the description alone was enough to capture my attention. The Hanging Artist is a well written, suspenseful page-turner that I thoroughly enjoyed.
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The Hanging Artist is definitely the the strangest books I’ve read this year so far.

The main character is Franz Kafka. Yes, the same. He is thrown into an investigation after not dying of tuberculosis. Oh and he has a sidekick too! Gregor, human turned giant cockroach. Yes, the same from Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. After meeting the mysterius Inspector Beide, he convinces Kafka to travel to Vienna to try and solve a series of hangings. In Vienna there is a performer called The Hanging Artist, whose performance is to commit suicide every night. There is obviously a connection but The Hanging Artist cannot be connected to the crimes. 

When I first read the description I was immediately intrigued because it was crazy and smart and unique. The story has the things I’m looking for in books: the supernatural. The plot is genius. Franz Kafka portrayed as an investigator, trying to solve a crime. At first he has no idea how to even start solving it but he gets the job done. He sortes through every little detail very meticulously. His sidekick the cockroach is one funny fella. 

We have a mysterious detective who seems to appear at just the right times and disappear at the most inopportune ones. Not much is told about him but he is a rather interesting character. I hope to find out more about him meaning I hope there will be a sequel to this book.

And The Hanging Artist himself. I really liked him because of his strength. Let’s just say you have to read the book to find out what I mean, it’s worth it. 

Thank you to NetGalley, Abbadon Books and Jon Steinhagen for my copy. All opinions are my own.
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