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The Man On Hackpen Hill
by J.S. Monroe
Review

Cover image of the book 'The Man On Hackpen Hill' by author J.S. Monroe

THE MAN ON HACKPEN HILL

Cover image of the book 'The Man On Hackpen Hill' by author J.S. MonroeAn original, intelligent and twisty thriller set in rural Wiltshire. A dead body in a crop circle sends a coded message. Can DI Silas Hart uncover the chilling truth before it’s too late?

It isn’t unusual for crop circles to appear overnight on Hackpen Hill. In this part of Wiltshire, where golden wheat fields stretch for miles, the locals have got used to discovering strange mathematical patterns stamped into the earth.

But this time, it’s different. Not only because this particular design of dramatic spiralling hexagons has never been seen before. But because of the dead body positioned precisely in the centre of the circle. DI Silas Hart, of Swindon Police, is at a loss.

Only Jim, a scientist at secretive government laboratory Porton Down, knows the chilling truth about the man on Hackpen Hill. And he wants Bella, a trainee journalist on her first ever story, to tell the world. But Silas has other ideas – and a boss intent on a cover up.

As Bella and Jim race against time, dark forces conspire against them, leading them to confront the reality of their own past and a world in which nothing is as it seems.

Cover image of the book 'The Man On Hackpen Hill' by author J.S. Monroe

J.SMONROE

Image of author J.S. Monroe - updated July 2021J.S. Monroe is the pseudonym of the British author Jon Stock.

After reading English at Magdalene College, Cambridge, Jon worked as a freelance journalist in London, writing features for most of Britain’s national newspapers, as well as contributing to BBC Radio 4. He was also chosen for Carlton TV’s acclaimed screenwriters course.

In 1995 he lived in Kochi in Kerala, where he worked on the staff of India’s The Week magazine. Between 1998 and 2000, he was a foreign correspondent in Delhi, writing for the Daily Telegraph, South China Morning Post and the Singapore Straits Times. He also wrote the Last Word column in The Week magazine from 1995 to 2012.

On his return to Britain in 2000, Jon worked on various Saturday sections of the Telegraph before taking up a staff job as editor of its flagship Weekend section in 2005, which he oversaw for five years. He left Weekend and the Telegraph in 2010 to finish writing his Daniel Marchant trilogy and returned to the Telegraph in February 2013 to oversee their digital books channel. In May 2014 he was promoted to Executive Head of Weekend and Living, editing the paper’s Saturday and Sunday print supplements, as well as a range of digital lifestyle channels. He left the paper in October 2015 to resume his thriller-writing career.

As Jon Stock, he is the successful author of a number of spy novels and now as J.S. Monroe, he is busily writing standalone psychological thrillers.

Jon lives in Wiltshire with his wife and children.

Keep up with all the latest news on Jon’s website

Follow Jon on Twitter

Connect with Jon on Facebook

“My agent told me early on in my writing career that I must bear one thing in mind above all else: jeopardy. I always try to write books that I want to read, so inevitably the stories that put my characters in danger are based on my own fears.”

Cover image of the book 'The Man On Hackpen Hill' by author J.S. Monroe

FIRST LINES

ERIN

“I blame the rooks. For weeks they’ve been urging me to fly, hurling insults, calling me names. Corvid the coward! Featherless fu**tard! Even worse, chicken thighs! Bella’s right. I’ve been on it a lot lately. Anything to silence the birds in my head. Stop the heckling. The taunts. And now my best friend has left. The only person who understood, gave me time. Respect. Good luck to Bella. She’s going to need it”

.

CHAPTER ONE

BELLA

“Bella turns around to take one last look at the college as her mum drives away through the gates. A porter nods at them from the lodge. For the past three years, Bella’s been studying at one of Oxford’s smaller colleges, tucked away on the outskirts of the city. An oasis of Victorian brickwork in a sea of manicured lawns and sycamores. At least, that’s how she described the place in an article for the college mag.”

Cover image of the book 'The Man On Hackpen Hill' by author J.S. Monroe

MEMORABLE LINES

“Crop circles are a pain in the arse, as far as he’s concerned. Dreamt up in the pub over a pint or three by people with nothing better to do and then hailed as extraterrestrial messages by the croppie community – the believers”

.

“He walks back over to the body. She too looks as if she’s fallen from space and is now hugging the earth’s surface for comfort, her cheek pressed against the ground, hands clutching at the flattened wheat”

.

“Jim seems so rational, systematic – it must be the scientist in him – but there’s an artist’s passion about him too. He’s also calm, reassuring company, until something slips and he’s on edge like a wild animal: furtive, alert”

.

“For Silas, mortuaries will forever be synonymous with professional failure”

.

“He’s back as a ‘volunteer’ – as punishment for leaking classified information to Bella. MI5 must have a dark sense of humour, silencing him with the very experiments that he was trying to expose”

.

“He’s still a blur but Jim knows it’s him because of the sickly sweet aftershave. Dr Haslam never goes anywhere without it. Maybe it’s to mask the smell of other people’s fear”

.

“As Jonathan says, delusions are often no more than expressions of our deepest wishes – and of our most profound fears”

Cover image of the book 'The Man On Hackpen Hill' by author J.S. Monroe

REVIEW

“A dead body in a crop circle sends a coded message”

I haven’t read too many of the flurry of post Coronavirus pandemic books, as I just know that some are going to be much better than others – but boy oh boy! This has to be one of the best!!

I deliberately chose to download this one, first and foremost, because I have to admit that I had a vested interest in this story long before I even opened the cover on my Kindle. It is set in a location I know so well, having been born and raised in Swindon, a mere couple of miles from Hackpen Hill. When we were first married we lived up on the edge of the Cotswolds, so Oxford was our local ‘stamping ground’. We now live just as close in the opposite direction and within a virtual stones throw of Porton Down, near to Salisbury. I therefore found myself trying to catch the author out with his continuity of place names and journey times, but this storyline has been so well researched and authentically presented, with an obvious enthusiasm that doesn’t take prisoners, so there was not much chance of me finding fault, leaving me able to enjoy a lovely trip down memory lane, although the Swindon Police HQ has been relocated to Gable Cross since I moved away and is no longer a central feature and deterrent in the heart of the town.

Those were about the only parts which were lovely though, as this story hit the ground running from those very first opening lines, with the action and suspense being relentless right until the last, when an ending which was carefully considered, gently brought down the pace and offered peace and hope for the future, for Bella and Jim. Some short, punchy chapters kept the gathering momentum of the storyline evenly paced and fluid; seen, heard and told as it was, through the eyes, ears and voices of the three main protagonists, Bella, Jim and DI Silas Hart.

Crop circles have formed a large and important part of the narrative of the Wiltshire landscape from as far back as I can remember, including the wrath and ire they invoke within the local farming community, for the damage and havoc they can wreak on a crop. Also, having a husband who is ex-military, the concept of the Porton Down “£15 help us find a cure for the common cold” which used to be offered to serving service personnel, is legendary! However, this book raises the game of both strands of local folklore, to a totally different, elevated and nauseatingly twisted level, then deftly weaves them together, with the addition of an unscrupulous US pharmaceutical company, into a tale of chilling proportions, which plays with the minds and emotions of protagonists and readers alike. Nothing is what it seems in the distorted reality of this disparate cast of characters and it is left to DI Silas Hart and DC Strover to unravel fact from fiction, truth from lie, reality from imagination, as they try to bust open a cartel which has already destroyed so many lives. I wonder if perhaps in these times of the whistle-blower culture , a beleaguered Porton Down might, on this occasion, come away with some of its reputation and code of ethics as a protector of the country, intact?

Supremely dark and intensely multi-faceted; wonderfully researched and authentic; compelling and gripping; sympathetically nuanced and told with real heart. The immersive qualities an author who is skilled in the imagery of words and the art of storytelling can engender, makes reading this book both a delight and a troubling experience, at one and the same time. A penetrating and profoundly touching study in human behaviour, encompassing mental health issues and the power of drug induced mind manipulation, whilst never loosing sight of the overarching crime thriller storyline at its core.

The author has created a cast of characters, which aside from the Swindon CID team, are definitely not what they seem to all outward appearances, but I dare you spot the anomalies and join up all the dots. So well have they all been drawn and defined, so genuinely believable, so raw and passionate, they totally had me fooled, right until the bitter end. Complex, emotionally damaged, desperately driven by imagined and instilled beliefs and reactions, all of which made them difficult to relate to or invest in, until unfolding events turn everything on its head and the devastation wrought by an unscrupulous few individuals becomes terrifyingly apparent, to them and me.

Oh! and the ‘locals’ in the village pub, ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’ (not the real name of a pub in this area from what I can ascertain, but I would love to know on which establishment it is based) are probably quite fairly representative of this rural, insular corner of the county, although perhaps I shouldn’t admit to that and I defy most people to find it anything other than a struggle to relate or become engaged with them, they do have their own particularly unique customs and ‘quirky’ ways!

Hart and Strover are a new team of detectives to the world of crime fiction, but to my thinking, they really do warrant and demand a series of their own, so well do they gel and work together. Keen to encourage his young protegee, in a CID section he considers to be too male dominated, Hart not only gives a methodical, process driven and ‘nerdy’ Strover a free reign during the course of the investigation, but he also refreshingly, finds himself actually listening, being informed and acting on, her attention to detail. As the investigation progresses, it does transpire that Hart has more than a purely professional interest in this case, which sets his policing and parental responsibilities, rather at odds with each other. Happily, they do not collide too spectacularly and the outcome should also help his family get back on track, as like all fictional detectives, he does carry an inordinate amount of emotional baggage and leads a complicated and turbulent home life.

From a purely personal point of view, part of the joy of reading, is the unique and individual journey a book takes me on and The Man On Hackpen Hill, is so much more than a daring crime thriller – Where will your journey take you?

Image of author J.S. Monroe - updated July 2021

A complimentary kindle download of this book, for review purposes, was made available by the publisher Head of Zeus and supplied by NetGalley.

Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.

I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!

 

Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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22 comments
  • Wheat fields, dramatic spiralling hexagons and a coded message from a dead body…..one would have thought this was going to be a science fiction :-)) and it does sound really exciting.
    Thanks for another wonderful book review, Yvonne.

    • When it comes to crop circles in this area, there has to be a fine line between science fiction and other genres. There is in fact a very lively group of UFO fanatics in and around Wiltshire and regular ‘sightings’ are always making the local news.

      Many ‘Moonrakers’ (people who come from the county in general are called this, although specific towns and cities also have local names) take their crop circles very seriously, although disbelievers, such as myself, might think that mechanical means of a more earthly nature are involved.

      The book itself is an exciting thriller, which keeps you guessing right until the end and I don’t think I would be giving too much away if I say that there isn’t an alien in sight!

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by, it is always good to chat with you 🙂

    • This storyline really does ‘hit the spot’, as it is truly authentic to the area.

      It also features a detective duo who totally deserve to have a series of their own. There will be plenty of local folklore to weave into any future storylines they might feature in and failing that, there is always plenty of crime being committed in the area, enough for at least a few good murder investigations!

      Thanks as ever for your support, I appreciate you stopping by 🙂

    • Jon has written four previous thrillers under the name of J.S. Monroe and not only do they all have striking cover art, but they are also on my Kindle just waiting to be read!

      From what I remember of your reading habits, I really think that this would be a book you would enjoy and I am certain it would make a really good series, as the police duo are really strong characters who work well together!

      Thanks for stopping by, I hope that all is well with you and that you do still occasionally make time for some reading! 🙂

    • I have all of this author’s books on my Kindle ready to read and they each sound just as intriguing.

      I certainly don’t believe in ‘little green men’ and UFO’s, but the crop circles certainly appear overnight and are often very elaborate, although a dead body in the middle of them doesn’t happen often!! 🙂

      The drug trials on unsuspecting candidates are certainly harrowing to read, but as I indicated in my review, it was standard practice to offer servicemen the chance to earn some extra cash to be part of some trials – and they definitely weren’t all trying to find the cure for the common cold!

      I think you might enjoy this one – I’ll let you decide and thanks for stopping by 🙂

      • It doesn’t seem to be available at my Amazon, that I could find. I did see others by the same author. Hopefully I will remember to check back for this again in the future. It does sound good!

        And are you really so certain there’s not intelligent life somewhere else in the universe?? (check out the Fermi Paradox at wiki)

        • I’ve checked .com from this end too and you are quite right, it isn’t listed at all. I have messaged the author on Twitter to see if he can confirm any publishing plans for the US and I’ll let you know.

          The book is still available to request on NetGalley if that’s any help!

          Now you sound like Dave with your Fermi Paradox!! I guess I know in the back of my mind that we can’t possibly be the only living thing in the entire universe, but the idea of aliens coming down to check us out in the middle of the night, forming a crop circle or two, then flying off again???
          My black or white mindset just can’t cope with that!

          Mind you, if I had watched the films ‘Outbreak’ or ‘Contagion’ two years ago and someone had told me that everything in it was about to happen – and to me – I would have probably had the same reaction of disbelief!!

          Agree to disagree? 🙂 🙂

          • Thanks, Yvonne. I’ll just wait and see if it becomes available at Amazon. You can let me know what you find out. 🙂

            Outside of science fiction, I don’t really like to think about the possibility of real aliens! As for what’s going on now… I think it was probably just a matter of time.

            • I don’t think that Covid is anywhere near done with us yet and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is just the first of the Pandemics we will see in our lifetimes.

              I’ll be in touch about the book 🙂

            • I just heard back from Jon. Although he has reached agreement for the UK publisher to publish his next two books in the US, Jon is still looking for a US publishing agreement for this particular book – Sorry!

  • How lovely to find a book which has so many connections, it surely made the story more interesting. I have to admit that I am curious, even though crop circles is something that would usually put me off reading a book.
    Have a lovely weekend. xx

    • Crop circles don’t really interest me that much either, but they are all part and parcel of the folklore of the local area, so I have grown up knowing about them. The most interest I probably had in the subject was when I watched the 2002 film ‘Signs’ with Mel Gibson!

      The added mathematical symbols in these crop circles, dead bodies, mind manipulating drug tests, and a great new detective duo, all worked together to make this a memorable story – and of course, that I knew just about all the locations, meant that I could almost see myself there as part of the action.

      Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate your comments and I hope that your Saturday weather is a little better than it is here. It is very calm and warm, but oh! so wet! 🙂

      • I had no idea that crop circle was something in UK too. I only know about this from US movies. That’s interesting!

        The weather in L’pool is not great either, but we went to our monthly safari-park trip and we had a wonderful time. The drive-through safari park is a nice option on a rainy day. 🙂

        • Oh Yes! Crop circles are definitely big here in the UK, especially in Wiltshire!!
          UFO’s and Aliens also seem to attract a lot of attention too!!

          The rain hasn’t been constant, but when it comes down, boy! is it heavy. We haven’t crossed the doorstep today, but we do have plans for tomorrow.

          Glad you had a nice day 🙂

  • Hi Yvonne, this sounds like a thrilling read and right up my alley. I do the same with stories set in my hometown or state, I pay extra attention to the setting details while reading. Glad you enjoyed this one and thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Naida,

      I was only joking about trying to catch the author out in the location detail. It is just so nice to be able to relate to a location and all the landmarks. Jon has used 99% genuine street names etc, with just the name of the pub being fictional, but I can forgive him that one!

      The storyline was also ‘local’ if that makes sense, with the Porton Down research facility having a long held record of testing some very strange concoctions on ‘volunteers’, although that practice has been all but eradicated now I believe. It does come out of the story squeaky clean too, as the focus switches to a private Oxford laboratory as the potential source of contamination.

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by, it is great to catch up with you. I hope that you have enjoyed your summer and that all is well with yourself and the family 🙂

    • You are so very welcome and thank you for writing such an amazing story, that I could relate to so thoroughly and become invested in from the very beginning.

      I am still hoping that decide to create a series all of their own, for ‘Hart & Strover’?

      Can’t wait for the next book 🙂

Written by Yvonne

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