Publishers: Harper Collins
Pages: 416 (Paperback 2002)
Rider Sandman, Sir Henry Forrest, Eleanor Forrest,
Gallows Thief is a murder mystery novel written by my favourite author Bernard Cornwell. The novel is set in London in the 1820’s, just after the Napoleonic Wars. The story is based around a decommissioned solider, Rider Sandman, who is a young gentlemen from a rich aristocratic family. Sandman is down on his luck.
After leaving the army at the end of the Wars, Sandman finds that his father has spent the family’s wealth and shamed them by committing suicide. It falls on Rider to find work of a gentlemen’s nature to pay for the upkeep of his Mother and Sister. Sandman hopes of marriage are also dashed by his father’s death. His proposed marriage to Eleanor Forrest is ended by her mother, as she sees Sandman as not now been socially worthy enough for an Alderman of London’s daughter. Eleanor’s father, Sir Henry Forrest gives Sandman a chance to redeem his family honour and earn some money by gaining the confession of a convicted murderer Charles Corday. Over the next few days however, Sandman finds new evidence which shows Corday may not have been the murderer. This leaves Sandman in a rush to prove his innocence as Corday hangs in one week.
For me this was a very different book than the ones I am used to reading by Cornwell. Normally Cornwell writes historical fiction that sees the characters going through a quest or a journey which co-insides with historical events. This was the first book of Cornwell’s that I have read that is a murder mystery. I thought it made a nice change. It is very gripping, because you want to find who the murderer is and Gallows Thief is only a single novel, so it makes a good quick read because there are no sequels.
However there are still some trademark Cornwell techniques in the book that make it familiar to avid Cornwell fans. Examples would be that the main character becomes a hero by the end of the book. Sandman starts off as a lowly character with a disgraced family but by the end he saves a man’s life and wins the respect of his peers. Like all of his books, Cornwell puts a lot of historical detail into Gallows Thief. He really shows what London was like after the Napoleonic Wars with its high unemployment rate and the effect all the decommissioned soldiers had on the city.
All in all this was a good book. I bit different to most of Cornwell’s other books, but it made a refreshing difference. I’d suggest this book to any Cornwell fan, as well as anyone who was interested in the Napoleonic Wars or capital punishment in the 19th Century.
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