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Gallows Thief

Gallows Thief

4.1 23
by Bernard Cornwell

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Rider Sandman, a hero at Waterloo, returns home to a country where both corruption and social unrest run rampant, and where "justice" is most often delivered—to those whose primary crime is poverty—at the end of a hangman's noose.

Penniless, Sandman accepts a job investigating the case of a painter due to be hanged for a murder he didn't commit. In a race


Rider Sandman, a hero at Waterloo, returns home to a country where both corruption and social unrest run rampant, and where "justice" is most often delivered—to those whose primary crime is poverty—at the end of a hangman's noose.

Penniless, Sandman accepts a job investigating the case of a painter due to be hanged for a murder he didn't commit. In a race against the clock, Sandman moves from the hellish bowels of Newgate prison to the perfumed drawing rooms of the aristocracy—and in the process begins to peel back the layers of an utterly corrupt penal system that pits him against the wealthiest and most ruthless men in Regency England.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Fans of Cornwell's gallant up-from-the-ranks rifleman, Richard Sharpe, will welcome the upright Captain Rider Sandman, a veteran, like Sharpe, of Waterloo and the Peninsula campaign, in a mystery that highlights the horrors of capital punishment in Regency England. Compelled as a civilian to play cricket to earn a bare living in the wake of his disgraced father's financial ruin and suicide, Sandman can hardly refuse the Home Secretary's job offer of looking into the case of Charles Corday, a portrait painter convicted of murdering the Countess of Avebury. Since Corday's mother has the ear of Queen Charlotte, someone has to go through the motions of confirming Corday's guilt before he goes to the scaffold. Sandman, though, soon realizes that the man is innocent, and to prove it he has to locate a servant girl who was a likely witness to the countess's murder and has now disappeared. Sandman's investigation leads him to confront the corrupt and decadent members of London's Seraphim Club, but fortunately his reputation as a brave battlefield officer turns into allies any number of ex-soldier ruffians who might otherwise have given him trouble. The suspense mounts as Sandman must race the clock to prevent a miscarriage of justice at the nail-biting climax. An unresolved subplot involving our hero's ex-fiancEe, who still loves him despite his fall into poverty, suggests that Sandman will be back for further crime-solving adventures. Traditional historical mystery readers should cheer. (May 5) Forecast: Since the Sharpe series already has a strong following among mystery fans, it should be easy for Cornwell to build on that audience if this is indeed the start of a new crime series. He is also the author of two other historical series, the Nathaniel Starbuck Chronicles and the Warlord Chronicles. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Disgraced by his father's suicide and impoverished by the debts that drove him to it, Capt. Rider Sandman, late of His Majesty's 52nd Regiment of Foot, has been forced to sell his commission to support his mother and sister. Desperate to earn a living but with no skills besides soldiering and cricket, he has come to London in search of a job. When the Home Secretary offers him temporary employment investigating a sensational murder, he accepts it as easy money. All he has to do is elicit a confession from the young artist accused of raping and murdering the Countess of Avebury during her portrait sitting. But when Sandman visits him in Newgate, the artist defends his innocence so vehemently that Sandman begins to have his doubts. Unwillingly, he is drawn into an investigation that not only risks his life but introduces him to the darkest secrets of several aristocratic families. As with his popular Richard Sharpe novels (Sharpe's Trafalgar) and his Arthurian trilogy, "The Warlord Chronicles," Cornwell is superb at weaving the ambience and issues of the day (this time Regency England) with a gripping plot and a memorable character. Readers will hope to see more. Cynthia Johnson, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, MA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A washed-ashore Cape Codder for the past 20 years, Cornwell has published 18 Richard Sharpe British historicals about soldiering during the Napoleonic Wars (Sharpe's Triumph, 2002), nearly a dozen of which have been seen on PBS. He now abandons Sharpe and embarks on a lively novel against capital punishment, set in England in the post-Napoleonic Wars period, known as the Regency, during which crop failures have undermined the lavishly wealthy style of London's highborn. Indeed, when Rider Sandman, a hero back from Waterloo, finds that his family has gone bust, he must now support himself as an investigator for the Crown who looks into capital cases. During this particular period, the Crown hands out death sentences like playing cards, even for minor crimes by children. When the artist Charles Corday is accused of the rape and murder of a lady, Sandman has but a few days to find the real perp before Corday is hanged. His investigation takes him through strongly drawn fashionable and grimy levels of London, including an overstuffed Newgate Prison. And it is a trail that may prove fatal to Sandman himself. Does the title tell too much? Or will Sandman fail? Standard Cornwell, this time with enough effluvial smells to make a bloodhound hold its breath.

Product Details

Gale Group
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Large Print
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5.54(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.09(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Rider Sandman was up late that Monday morning because he had been paid seven guineas to play for Sir John Hart's eleven against a Sussex team, the winners to share a bonus of a hundred guineas, and Sandman had scored sixty-three runs in the first innings and thirty-two in the second, and those were respectable scores by any standard, but Sir John's eleven had still lost. That had been on the Saturday and Sandman, watching the other batsmen swing wildly at ill-bowled balls, had realized that the game was being thrown. The bookmakers were being fleeced because Sir John's team had been expected to win handily, not least because the famed Rider Sandman was playing for it, but someone must have bet heavily on the Sussex eleven, which, in the event, won the game by an innings and forty-eight runs. Rumor said that Sir John himself had bet against his own side and Sir John would not meet Sandman's eyes, which made the rumor believable.

So Captain Rider Sandman walked back to London.

He walked because he refused to share a carriage with men who had accepted bribes to lose a match. He loved cricket, he was good at it, he had once, famously, scored a hundred and fourteen runs for an England eleven playing against the Marquess of Canfield's picked men, and lovers of the game would travel many miles to see Captain Rider Sandman, late of His Majesty's 52nd Regiment of Foot, perform at the batting crease. But he hated bribery and he detested corruption and he possessed a temper, and that was why he fell into a furious argument with his treacherous teammates, and when they slept that night in SirJohn's comfortable house and rode back to London in comfort next morning, Sandman did neither. He was too proud.

Proud and poor. He could not afford the stagecoach fare, nor even a common carrier's fare, because in his anger he had thrown his match fee back into Sir John Hart's face and that, Sandman conceded, had been a stupid thing to do, for he had earned that money honestly, yet even so it had felt dirty. So he walked home, spending the Saturday night in a hayrick somewhere near Hickstead and trudging all that Sunday until the right sole was almost clean off his boot. He reached Drury Lane very late that night and he dropped his cricket gear on the floor of his rented attic room and stripped himself naked and fell into the narrow bed and slept. Just slept. And was still sleeping when the trapdoor dropped in Old Bailey and the crowd's cheer sent a thousand wings startling up into the smoky London sky. Sandman was still dreaming at half past eight. He was dreaming, twitching, and sweating. He called out in incoherent alarm, his ears filled with the thump of hooves and the crash of muskets and cannon, his eyes astonished by the hook of sabers and slashes of straight-bladed swords, and this time the dream was going to end with the cavalry smashing through the thin red-coated ranks, but then the rattle of hooves melded into a rush of feet on the stairs and a sketchy knock on his flimsy attic door. He opened his eyes, realized he was no longer a soldier, and then, before he could call out any response, Sally Hood was in the room. For a second Sandman thought the flurry of bright eyes, calico dress, and golden hair was a dream, then Sally laughed. "I bleeding woke you. Gawd, I'm sorry!" She turned to go.

"It's all right, Miss Hood." Sandman fumbled for his watch. He was sweating. "What's the time?"

"St. Giles just struck half after eight," she told him.

"Oh, my Lord!" Sandman could not believe he had slept so late. He had nothing to get up for, but the habit of waking early had long taken hold. He sat up in bed, remembered he was naked, and snatched the thin blanket up to his chest. "There's a gown hanging on the door, Miss Hood. Would you be so kind?"

Sally found the dressing gown. "It's just that I'm late" — she explained her sudden appearance in his room — "and my brother's brushed off and I've got work, and the dress has to be hooked up, see?" She turned her back, showing a length of bare spine. "I'd have asked Mrs. Gunn to do it," Sally went on, "only there's a hanging today, so she's off watching. Gawd knows what she can see, considering she's half-blind and all drunk, but she does like a good hanging and she ain't got many pleasures left at her age. It's all right, you can get up now. I've got me peepers shut."

Sandman climbed out of bed warily, for there was only a limited area in his tiny attic room where he could stand without banging his head on the beams. He was a tall man, an inch over six foot, with pale gold hair, blue eyes, and a long, rawboned face. He was not conventionally handsome — his face was too rugged for that — but there was a capability and a kindness in his expression that made him memorable. He pulled on the dressing gown and tied its belt. "You say you've got work?" he asked Sally. "A good job, I hope?"

"Ain't what I wanted," Sally said, "because it ain't on deck."

"Deck? "

"Stage, Captain," she said. She called herself an actress and perhaps she was, though Sandman had seen little evidence that the stage had much use for Sally, who, like Sandman, clung to the very edge of respectability and was held there, it seemed, by her brother, a very mysterious young man who worked strange hours. "But it ain't..."

Gallows Thief. Copyright © by Bernard Cornwell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

BERNARD CORNWELL is the author of the acclaimed New York Times bestselling Saxon Tales series, which includes The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman, Lords of the North, Sword Song, The Burning Land, Death of Kings, The Pagan Lord, and, most recently, The Empty Throne, and which serves as the basis for the hit television series The Last Kingdom. He lives with his wife on Cape Cod and in Charleston, South Carolina.

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Gallows Thief 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
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Great story written with beautifully descriptive language.
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GtzLstNRding More than 1 year ago
A tale of the start of the judicial system. Back in early England, a murder mystery, blackmail and a framed artist. This story unravels a mystery that shows the beginning of the legal system. Overall not a bad read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gallows Gate is a good adventure story that is easy to read. The historical fiction gives interesting facts about the lives during this time.
Magdalena25 More than 1 year ago
This was the first book of Cornwell's that I have read and it was well done. The subject was very interesting and I liked Rider Sandman although I thought the pace of the novel a little slow and the storyline predictable. The plot was a little too simple and I tend to like my mysteries and detective stories to be thick and twisted. Anyway, it was an enjoyable read overall.
KokoOH More than 1 year ago
This is the first time I have read a book by this Author, but I will certainly buy his books from now on. I love books set in this era and I think the story line as well as the historical aspect was very well told.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Gallows Thief is a good book, filled with interesting characters and great scenes. Cornwell is a master at bringing the scene to life with vivid descriptions that make the reader feel, and in the case of Gallows Thief smell, like they are in the middle of the story. Rider Sandman the hero of Waterloo finds himself down and out in London with few prospects for employment, when he is asked by the Home Secretary to ¿investigate¿ the circumstances surrounding a murder, he can earn a month¿s pay in a week. Sandman takes the job only to find that the murder is far from the open and shut case that it first appears. In his attempt to prove the innocence of a condemned man Sandman meets several interesting characters as the reader is taken across London and into the country side to Kent. Cornwell does his usual brilliant job of bringing the story to life. It is an interesting and entertaining mystery. I found that I figured out the plot twist before it was totally revealed but I did not make all the connections that the author lays out. Gallows Thief is a fun read and a good break from some of Cornwell¿s longer series.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A truly great work. I wanted a break from the Sharpe series (which is outstanding), so I picked up Gallows Thief. The mystery keeps changing with each new chapter and the ending was far from my predictions. This one really kept me guessing. The characters and scenes are so real, I felt as though I were part of the story. You can not put this one down, so make time to read it through!
LDAJr More than 1 year ago
I have too much respect for Bernard Cornwell to encourage him to repeat this silly work. Yes, we know that the English liked nothing better than a good hanging, but so did the marshalls and sheriffs from our wild west days. This story is a similar drama, and includes a cavalry charge at the end to rescue a damsel in distress - give me a break (or better still, give me my money back).