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Gallows Thief    by Bernard Cornwell Amazon.com order for
Gallows Thief
by Bernard Cornwell
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HarperTorch, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

It's 1817 London and Newgate Prison is doing a land office business in hangings. Picture Madame DuFarge cheering the Guillotine and multiply her by a thousand souls slavering to see a convicted prisoner do the 'gallows dance'. Former soldier Rider Sandman, who fought bravely at Waterloo, is commissioned to determine the guilt or innocence of a convicted murderer. A short step from poverty, he takes on the onerous task of delving into the filthy and odorous streets and back alleys of London lowlife.

Gallows Thief opens on a held breath and never slows down. Action on almost every page drives the reader to continue long into the night. The last pages are almost too much to bear. If history is your passion, this is the book for you. 1817 London comes alive fortunes won and lost at the card table; people used and discarded as so much rubbish; gentry who feel a sense of empowerment only because they hold a title; marriages negotiated for the benefits derived rather than for love.

If you also love mysteries and suspense, then this is most definitely the book for you. It races from one tight moment to another, never faltering or skipping a beat. Bernard Cornwell is a master of historical fiction, having written the Richard Sharpe novels as well as the Nathaniel Starbuck Chronicles. This is a man with his pen in the ink of history, who brings the past to his readers with life and times depictions of wonderfully real characters. Don't miss Gallows Thief; it's a winner.

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