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Summary

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

Critic reviews

"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)

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    5 out of 5 stars

Powerful story.

Bernard Cornwell is no stranger to writing about the early 19th Century. His classivSharpe series are a tour de force in both historical fiction and adventure writing. Here, he gives us another bad ass soldier hero in Captain Rider Sandman. late of 52nd Foot and hero of Waterloo.

Soldiers struggle post war and a penurious Sandman takes a commission from the Home Office investigating a capital conviction for a Countess' murder. This being Cornwell, the conviction is far from safe and a reluctant Sandman gets dragged into conspiracy and adventure. Here are all the Cornwell tropes
and some teasing references to a giant blind ex soldier and a bunch of rifleman who once saved Sandman.

This is a strong story that feeds into Cornwell's abhorrence of the Death Penalty in an era where justice was cold, swift and merciless. Jonathan Keble provides a superb narration, imparting tension, excitement and keeping each character distinct.

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gallows thief

very well read with the all the existing expectations of seeing a long awaited film with the characters brought to life by the great Johnathan keeble this man was made for reading such well written story's by a great story writer well worth the time and money to listen to this book

2 people found this helpful

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"He'll paint" Worth The Wait.

Cornwell and Keeble absolutely excellent. Perhaps they should be combined into 'Cornble' or 'Keebwell '. I loved everything about this audio book. These two men are both in a Mastercraft of their own. The story slowly unfolds and you are introduced to the characters, of men who had fought at Waterloo, and of those who did not, the Femme-Fatale who.........find out for yourselves. You might call this a Napoleonic fiction story but it's just a few characters who were there. I'm not into fiction stories and I got this book for £3.00 because I've heard the other 182 audio books several times, those books are Napoleonic non-fiction and Warhammer. But my God am I glad I got this book. Being disabled I get a lot of time to lay down, and now my library is about to take a new direction. GET THIS AUDIO-BOOK. YOU WILL LOVE IT! Hoo-Rah!

1 person found this helpful

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Gallows Thief

It’s a real pity Bernard Cornwell hasn’t used this character for a series of books. Thoroughly enjoyable rollicking listen, great characters well read as ever by the excellent Jonathan Keeble.

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Excellent racey period piece

not my usual stuff more sci-fi based add this for a change was great ! Very racy, very exciting story well written, well worth listening to very compelling!

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loved it...great characters...superb narration ...

Excellent ...loved the rich voice and characterisations. Hopeful for further adventures. Too good not to.

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  • Mr
  • 27-05-15

A really good story

I have listened to and read many of Cornwells book.
I enjoyed the story and the delivery was excellent.
I recommend it.

1 person found this helpful

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Well written story

It's a good book. Not usually the book i would go for but still good. I only listened to it because of my love for Cornwalls Warlord trilogy.

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What a narrator!

Jonathan Keeble has done it again! Hit the nail on the head again with Bernard Cornwell. He is, by far, the best reader of Cornwell’s books - and should remain as such. An excellent book with gripping storyline, well told (or should that be “tolled”??🤪 Thank you once again.

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Excellent story & performance

An excellent story from Bernard Cornwell. I am a fan of his Sharpe books and this historical crime drama doesn't disappoint. The narrators performance was also excellent and brought to life all of the characters. Would highly recommend it.

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  • John
  • 20-02-15

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.