Books: The Man On Hackpen Hill
The Man On Hackpen Hill
By J.S. Monroe
Head of Zeus, 2022 (paperback RRP £9.99)
‘… not all the signs, the hidden messages around us, the codes in the sky and the sand and the sea — in the fossils — are for you. Sometimes you have to let them go, leave them for others.’
The Man on Hackpen Hill, originally published in hardback in 2021 and now in paperback, is a thriller by Wiltshire based writer JS Monroe (the pseudonym of spy fiction writer and former journalist Jon Stock). Whilst it’s not a crop circle book in the strictest sense, the circles are at the heart of a twisting plot incorporating murder, surveillance induced paranoia and the question of what really takes place behind closed doors in Wiltshire’s mysterious government research facilities.
Bella is an Oxford graduate seeking to follow her late father into journalism. Whilst undertaking a work experience role for a national publication, she is lured to a remote Wiltshire village by an anonymous tip-off. Here she finds Jim Matthews, a disillusioned scientist working at the Porton Down research facility who is looking to turn whistle-blower. Bella’s excitement over a potential scoop is short lived and her world blown apart with tragic news: the body of her best friend Erin has been found inside a crop circle underneath Hackpen Hill. But there is no time to grieve; Jim’s association with Bella leaves both at the mercy of relentless, anonymous pursuers. Whilst the pair look to stay ahead of their chasers, Detective Inspector Silas Hart and his more-than-able deputy Strover seek to crack the meanings of the season’s crop circles in the hope they will reveal the killer’s identity and motives.
So what is there for the average croppie in The Man On Hackpen Hill? Quite a bit. The author is clued up on message bearing formations, and, given his local knowledge, Monroe’s description of Wiltshire geography is flawless. He also possesses dry insight into the ways non-believers view the phenomenon. DI Hart’s take on the circles is as weary as you would expect from a police officer:
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.
Meanwhile, circle maker Noah is described in a manner that reflects the moral conundrum his real life peers find themselves in; just how do you make peace with yourself whilst knowing some people view your creations as the work of a higher power
[Noah] seemed to have arrived at a happy compromise with the believers in the croppie world, claiming that paranormal energies acted through him while he made the circles. Inexplicable forces called him to particular fields in the night. He’d even seen balls of light in the sky that guided and inspired him while he worked. He played along, in other words. Everyone a winner.
We can also squeal with delight as Monique Klinkenbergh of the Crop Circle Exhibition and Information Centre is all but mentioned by name, adding additional realism to the story. At the same time, as was pointed out in our review of Ben Myers’ The Perfect Golden Circle, a writer’s knowledge of croppiedom and its finer points doesn’t have to be impeccable, although it certainly helps when it comes to the sticklers. When all is said and done, a book should stand or fall on wider matters. After all, we tend to read thrillers for an engrossing, fast moving story complete with moments of mystery, peril, anguish and enlightenment. Monroe succeeds in all departments, particularly as the plot’s three main threads (the murder investigation, insight into Erin’s troubled life, and the Bella-Jim pursuit) are plaited together for the book’s shocking finale.
The Man On Hackpen Hill is great fun from start to finish regardless of whether you’re a croppie book collector or a casual reader. Take the time to get your hands on a copy as it’s a book that will keep your page-turning hand very busy.