GALLOWS THIEF by Bernard Cornwell
Harper Collins - October 2001
ISBN 0007127154 HB
Historical Crime - London, 1817

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde,
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He gave us Sharpe, a new slant on King Arthur, Civil War adventures and then a new series set during the Hundred Years War and now Bernard Cornwell launches into the highly popular genre of historical crime. As you might expect from such a master a treat lies in store from the opening pages when he gives an uncompromisingly graphic description of a hanging to the thrilling chase to catch a criminal the paces doesn't let up. Rider Sandman was a gentleman until his father speculated with other people's money and committed suicide on his ruin; now he is penniless and lives in a tavern in London frequented by the underworld. He is engaged by the Home Office to establish the guilt of a man waiting to hang - young Charles Corday, a portrait painter who allegedly raped and murdered his subject the beautiful Countess of Avebury. It all sounds straightforward until he interviews the man in Newgate…but just who did do the murder if not him? Rider's path will lead to the highest in the land and his own life in danger before he finds out the truth.

Rider fights, stalks his prey, plays cricket and gazes at his unattainable girlfriend and manages to be like and yet unlike Sharpe. He is aided by the delightful Reverend Lord Alexander, ex-Waterloo veteran Sergeant Berrigan, chirpy artist's model and fellow lodger Sally and her highwayman brother who are all engaging characters and help make a good tale better. The narrative rips along at the pace of a speeding mail coach helped by a generous dollop of gallows humor and left me hoping that this is the start of a new series. Georgette Heyer this ain't but for all those who want to know what lay beyond the well-tied cravats and muslin dresses this book truly hits the spot. More, more!

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