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by Bernard Cornwell

Rider Sandman, hero of Waterloo and now an investigator for the government, investigates the murder of the Countess of Avebury who was killed while having her portrait painted. The artist has been convicted of her murder and is due to hang.
Download Gallows Thief epub
ISBN: 0007437552
ISBN13: 978-0007437559
Category: Literature
Subcategory: Action & Adventure
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Language: English
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers; UK ed. edition (October 1, 2001)
ePUB size: 1929 kb
FB2 size: 1672 kb
Rating: 4.4
Votes: 636
Other Formats: lrf lit mbr mobi

I enjoy Cornwell's historical fiction as good reads with interesting characters to convey fast plots and historical accuracy. However, in this stand-alone novel, Cornwell has a voice not found in his other work.

The protagonist, a veteran officer of the Napoleonic Wars, has lost his status, fiancee, future, but not his conscience. When given a one-time opportunity to earn a few pounds by investing whether a condemned man just might be innocent, he becomes entangled with secret sex clubs, rigged cricket matches, aristocratic clergy, and the flash (criminal) underworld.

Rider's picaresque is pure fun. Sometimes in a rage, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes caught in a comic scene, Rider earns our favor. The flash slang and the details surrounding a Newgate hanging provide the special voice. I hope Cornwell will write more of his adventures, especially if he includes side-kicks Sam and Sally.
I have never read anything by Bernard Cornwell that I didn't enjoy immensely. While he is best known for series (The excellent Sharpe books, the even better Saxon Tales and the equally excellent Archer's Quest trilogy) so far at least Gallows Thief stands alone. I wouldn't be shocked if he eventually added to Captain Sandman's adventures.

One other thing which made this book stand out from his other work is the setting is not during a time of war. It takes place after Waterloo and answers the question "where do all the soldiers go after the wars?"

I recommend this book and all of Cornwell's work.
I'd like another book featuring this one's protagonist. It's not that this book ends in a cliffhanger. It's that this is not your usual Bernard Cornwell novel. It's simpler, shorter, less epic and, let's face it, just plain less in terms of the main plot and what happens to the characters.

The hero, Captain Ryder Sandman, comes back from an exemplary life as a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars to take his place in private life. Unfortunately, although Ryder was a born a gentleman, his father managed to bring down the family's finances and good name before committing suicide. Ryder is forced to live in penury over an unsavory tavern in Drury Lane, has lost his beloved fiancee, and is living a hardscrabble life, picking up money here and there from sporadic cricket matches he plays in.

But that's not enough money to support even himself, much less also his mother and younger sister. So he finds himself forced to take a temporary job as a "gallow's thief" for the Crown, to investigate whether or not a young painter named Corday actually committed the vicious murder he is sentenced to hang for. If innocent, Corday's trip to the gallows will be stolen from him, or more to the point, be stolen from the hoi polloi who use hangings as one of their main entertainments.

So this is a Regency mystery but it's more than that since this is a Cornwell book. There's extensive historical research woven into the story, about cricket, about the criminal justice system in the 1800s, about the actual logistics of execution by hanging, about the class system and inequities and injustices suffered by the lower classes. One thing that particularly struck me was that during this period of England's "Bloody Code", there were more than 200 capital crimes punishable by hanging, to name a few, petty theft, forgery, and sodomy.

More than a third of this book is taken up with mini-screeds on these various topics and that made for too little space for actual really good development of the mystery or the characters. I was left wanting more. What there was, however, was very good, with excellent portrayals of various characters from all walks of life and all social strata and of varying degrees of honesty and ethics. Some caused your skin to crawl, some entertained you with their humorous ways, and some deserved your admiration.

This is close to a 4-star book for me but I felt its excesses in interwoven "essays" bogged it down and broke up the pacing. I enjoyed the mystery, enjoyed the characters, but somehow I finished the book thinking there should have been more to the plot and less information dumps.
I put this Bernard Cornwell book on my e-reader after being notified about a special pricing event for Kindle. Once I read the story I came back hoping to find other stories in a series. Unfortunately it doesn't seem that Cornwell continued the adventures of Captain Rider Sandman or at least not yet. (If you have information about other books in this series, I would appreciate you leaving a comment about that. I've looked but can't find reference to any others, but I might easily have missed something in the listing of Cornwell's works.)

I had not read any of Cornwell's other novels, but when I saw he had written what is considered a mystery I couldn't pass it up. The writing is absolutely superb, but be prepared to spend a lot of reading time rehashing the battle of Waterloo. Yes, it was to be expected that the subject would find its way into the book so I can't really complain. Captain Sandman has been stripped of just about everything except his pride. Thanks to the financial irregularities and suicide of his father Sandman has lost his fiancée and his fortune. Having sold his commission so that he can provide the necessities for his mother and sister he finds himself having to play cricket for pay. That's a very hard way to earn your room and board. When Sandman is offered the one-time job of checking into the guilt of a prisoner scheduled to be hanged in one week's time the money is too hard to resist. As someone who never even thought about doing investigations into guilt or innocence he has no idea of where to even start. This was supposed to be a one day job where he manages to wrest a confession from the man accused of murder and then Sandman will move on to finding a way to earn his living. Unfortunately, instead, he is convinced the convicted man is innocent and so he begins to look for evidence to prove him innocent. Along the way he almost accidently forms a rather eclectic band of helpers.

This was actually a good mystery plot and the characters are wonderfully drawn. Even minor characters are given life on the page and that is an unusual thing to find in a relatively short mystery novel. I enjoyed this quite a bit and think that the characters could have worked very well in future stories. There are loads of unfinished sub-plots so perhaps Cornwell will pick up the story again in the future.
Really good story. It ended without unwinding some of the previous plot lines. Looks suspiciously like a sequel is planned. if so, unwind the stories of the ladyfriend of Sandman and the anti-hero Hood.