The Man on Hackpen Hill by J.S. Monroe #BookReview #BlogTour

An 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.

It's such a pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for The Man on Hackpen Hill today. Many thanks to J.S. Monroe and to Lauren from Head of Zeus for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

I loved The Other You when I read it last year, so have been eagerly looking forward to The Man on Hackpen Hill and I'm delighted to say that my expectations were more than met - this really is an excellent, imaginative thriller.
The sinister opening to the novel is unsettling and mysterious, with the full truth about what happens to Erin here not fully divulged until late in the book. However, there are hints throughout and it's always clear that what we are seeing isn't necessarily the full story. Erin's best friend, Bella is picked up by her mother, unaware of what has just happened inside their shared residence. She is looking forward to life after university but even at this early stage in the proceedings, there's a suggestion that Bella's memories of her time at Oxford don't necessarily reflect reality. 
The Man on Hackpen Hill sees the welcome return of DI Silas Hart who is working on rebuilding his relationship with his wife but their renewed closeness is immediately put under threat by the discovery of a body in the middle of a particularly elaborate crop circle. I live in North Dorset, close to the Wiltshire border and so many of the locations in the book are familiar to me but I hadn't realised that around 80% of the UK's crop circles appear in Wiltshire. The speculation as to their origins and tension between landowners and 'croppies' are featured here but this isn't a book about the how, it's about the what and why. What is the significance of the design of the circles and the presentation of the victims - and why is somebody apparently leaving cryptic clues on the hills and fields of the county?
As the body count rises, Silas and his colleague, DC Strover realise that the circle holds many of the answers, particularly as they are unable to identify all of the victims. I really enjoy the relationship between this pair; Strover growing in confidence as Silas learns to trust her instincts as well as his own, and to open up to her a little, too. Not much is disclosed about Strover's personal life but we do discover that she is clearly a highly intelligent, insightful woman who complements Hart's more practical approach to policing well and they make a good team. Silas is under pressure; the media is predictably feverishly interested in the case, with social media awash with various conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, his personal life faces another test and his boss makes things even more difficult by warning him off investigating nearby Porton Down.
Are the circles linked to the government laboratory though? The secretive nature of the place means that it's always a target for various theories and accusations, and J.S. Monroe exploits that fear of the unknown well here. It is undoubtedly true that it does have a grim history - the death of Ronald Maddison in 1953 is mentioned - but could it really be linked to murder? 
Jim certainly thinks so and he should know; as he explains to Bella when they meet in a pub, he has worked there and on secondment to an affiliated facility at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus and he is convinced of a cover-up. He also knows the risks he takes as a whistle-blower but as it becomes clear that both he and Bella are being pursued, there are questions raised about his true role in everything. Both Bella and Jim are hugely likeable characters and I couldn't help but root for the pair of them, despite having increasing doubts about their respective pasts and why they have been brought together.
This is an intricately woven story and with the chapters shared between Silas, Bella and Jim, the truth is revealed gradually - a glimpse here, a hint there - while the tension rises inexorably as it becomes obvious that there are some devious and very dangerous people involved in this puzzling mystery. With its discussions about binary representations, ASCII codes, chemical formulas and ciphers, The Man on Hackpen Hill is an intelligent, unnerving exploration of what science in the wrong hands is capable of. However, it's also an intriguing and moving look at resilience, mental health and ethics. Crime fiction which features Maths and Chemistry might sound a little daunting but although there are some difficult concepts discussed here, the reader learns alongside Silas. There's nothing mentioned which will prevent anybody from understanding or enjoying this compelling, original thriller where almost nothing is quite as it initially seems, and the real explanation for the crop circles and murders is both horrific and heartbreaking.
I read The Man on Hackpen Hill in a few hours, which should give you some indication of what an absorbing, compulsive read it is. Astute, chillingly ingenious and with a pacy, propulsive plot that meant I couldn't put it down, I loved every word and highly recommend it.

The Man on Hackpen Hill is published by Head of Zeus and can be purchased from, HiveWaterstonesKobo and Amazon but please consider supporting independent bookshops whenever possible.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
J.S. Monroe read English at Cambridge, worked as a foreign correspondent in Delhi, and was Weekend editor of the Daily Telegraph in London before becoming a full-time writer. His psychological thriller Find Me became a bestseller in 2017, and, under the name Jon Stock, he is also the author of five spy thrillers. He lives in Wiltshire, with his wife and children.