1820s Britain: after the wars with France, when unemployment was high and soldiers could be paid off, when the government was desperately afraid of social unrest, any crime was drastically punished and thousands were hung. But one could petition the King and an investigation might ensue....
The man in the dark cell in Newgate Prison was due to hang in a week. He had been found guilty of murdering the aristocrat whose portrait he was painting. He claimed to be innocent - but then the hangman had never hung a guilty man, he said. But even in 1820, the Home Secretary could occasionally use his powers to grant mercy if his investigator found cause and Rider Sandman, once of the First Foot Guards, is given the job.
Rider Sandman, a hero of Waterloo, has family debts to repay but when his first steps in the investigations produce a sizeable bribe to look the other way, this only arouses his smouldering anger over the condition of England, a country which he and others in Wellington's army had fought to preserve. Stepping between gentlemen's clubs and taverns, talking to aristocrats, fashionable painters, their models, and their mistresses, dodging professional cut-throats and deceptive swordsmen, Sandman uncovers a conspiracy of silence, a group whose proudest boast was that they would do anything for any one of them.
Sandman is a wonderful character, as yet undaunted by the sleazy streets, dank jails, or the looming scaffold, and uncorrupted by politicians, sneering gentlemen, or frightening bruisers, an investigator in the making and a brilliant, but very different, hero for all Bernard Cornwell fans.
©2001 Bernard Cornwell (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers Limited
"Bernard Cornwell is a literary miracle. Year after year, hail, rain, snow, war and political upheavals fail to prevent him from producing the most entertaining and readable historical novels of his generation...Cornwell at his best is utterly compelling. And this is Cornwell at his best." (Daily Mail)
"Page for page, sentence for sentence, scene for heart-stopping scene GALLOWS THIEF is the strongest historical novel I have read this year...he tells a cracking yarn and fills it with vivid characters and writes crisp dialogue and gets the period detail right..it is hard to stop reading...it is masterly." (Sunday Telegraph)
Bernard Cornwall's stories are always very good. It's well researched with an interesting fictional twist. The narration was good, and I found I spent a lot of time on the edge of my seat!
The reader was great, and did a great job of amplifying what suspense and action the story contained. Good characterisation, and confident narration that was enjoyable to listen to.The story contained some interesting elements, and was in essence a kind of pulp adventure in 19th century London. The main character was good, I thought believable, and was a good foil (as a principled man, without being holier-than-thou) to the various monstrous grotesques (corrupt, lascivious etc) that people most of the rest of the book. I charmingly ingenuous love of cricket, which is the best plot driver in the book; we just wants to get all this nonsense cleared away so he can get back to playing cricket. 'Themes' addressed (evil of capital punishment, the prevalence of corruption, the deflated 'what was it all for' feeling following the Napoleonic wars) were satisfying and well-researched.These good elements, however, felt as though they'd been gathered from the author's notes and, judged too good to waste, were hung on one of the most unsatisfying and absurd overall plots I've read. a) A quest to save a man from unjust hanging; a man who neither the hero, the reader, nor ANY of the characters in the story (right down to the 'London mob' walk-on parts) feel any kind of liking for. b) The 'twist' loudly telegraphed about an hour or so before the main character's discovery of it, by which time it has lost all its narrative force. c) an ending practically mid-sentence, with only implied resolution for the likeable Captain Sandman re: the young lady beyond his social reach. d) Two chief plot points hanging on unbelievable feats of coercion by Sandman: he gets one character to reveal what they know by threatening to withhold his reminiscences about Waterloo, and another by saying that wasps (of which the character is apparently frightened) are larger in the penal colonies of Australia than in England.More than this, there was very little in the way of investigative challenge; it was more the struggle of Sandman against 18th century logistics and communications. In the first chapters, we realise that the prisoner isn't guilty, and that there's a witness that can prove this. The rest of the book is about finding the witness, who did indeed see who did it, and relates this information to the authorities, who then reverse the hanging decision. All that said, I saw it through, and I probably wouldn't be so disappointed if the characters hadn't been engaging, and the world so well-evoked. I blame the editor.
Resolve Sandman's financial and marital situation properly.Abandon the (presumably deliberate?) verbatim repetition of sentences in the first and final hanging sections.
Make more of the highwayman HoodRationalise the antagonists (Robin Holloway? What function?)
Made the 'mystery' element a bit denser and more satisfyingOtherwise, keep the three(/four) main characters as they are, and write them into a better-conceied plot in a sequel.
Hope we see the world and the characters again; plotting and genre (mystery/investigation) could do with work.
Better storyline, pacing, balance and for B. Cornwell to perform his usual magic
Hard to do better with such a poorly written story
Endless narations about the prison, sermons, the first half doesn't get into any action...
The poorest performance from B. Cornwell. Did he really write this?
"Did Bernard Cornwell write all of this book?"
The book contains a huge amount of fascinating and very convincing detail. It is well written and the performance is excellent.
It is, however, very different from Cornwells other books with a rather melodramatic and, frankly, unconvincing plot.
It's almost as if someone else has written the basic story and then Bernard Cornwell has worked on it to add the detail and atmosphere which he does so well.
This is the first of his books that I have read or listened to that I would rate with less than five stars.
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