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, since justice must be seen to be done as the accused man's mother is seamstress to the Queen.
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.
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By setting Gallows Thief in the Regency period, Bernard Cornwell is able to use his customary skills of characterisation and razor-sharp plotting against a vividly realised new backdrop.
It is Britain in the 1820s. After the wars with France, with unemployment high and soldiers paid off, the government lives in mortal fear of social unrest. The solution is draconian punishment for any crime, and thousands die on the gallows. But despite this, it was possible to petition the King and instigate an investigation. Cornwell's new hero Rider Sandman is a hero of Waterloo struggling to repay his family debts when he becomes involved in the case of a man waiting to be hanged in Newgate prison. Given the job by the Home Secretary of investigating the man's guilt or innocence, Sandman finds himself knee-deep in labyrinthine plots involving bribes, sedition and a massive conspiracy of silence. As this suggests, the contemporary parallels are never far away.
The world Cornwell has conjured for us is as richly drawn as any in his distinguished career: gentlemen's clubs and taverns, haughty aristocrats, fashionable painters and their mistresses, and professional cut-throats; all this creates a heady melange that is just as impressive as anything in Cornwell's Sharpe series. --Barry ForshawReview:
‘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
‘extremely powerful…Cornwell keeps one turning the pages at light infantry pace.’ Evening Standard
‘a historically colourful romp.’ The Times
‘This is the sort of beautifully crafted novel that we have come to expect from the creator of Sharpe…in the hands of Cornwell, this is a rip-roaring yarn that tips its hat to the basics of good old-fashioned storytelling.’ The Times
‘Bernard Cornwell is taking the popular historical novel to ever greater heights and this fast-moving thriller, shifting effortlessly across the social gamut of Regency England, is one of his masterpieces.’ Sunday Telegraph
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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2001. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0007127154