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by Martin Edwards
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2019
368 pages
ISBN: 1492699284

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In an author's note at the beginning of GALLOWS COURT, Martin Edwards admits that he approached writing this novel differently from how he did any previous work. Here, he was excited by the idea of a character, so he wrote without his usual emphasis on setting and/or an ingenious way to commit a crime. He even wrote without an outlne. And, in a further departure from his usual venue, Edwards set GALLOWS COURT in 1930s London. Edwards evokes the place and time with references to clothing and songs and sulphurous fog, and much of the action revolves around a magic act in a variety show, but beyond that, this novel could take place in almost any time. The historical aspects aren't the focus: Rachel Savernake is.

Wealthy, mysterious Rachel Savernake has recently arrived in London, and almost immediately, a wealthy artist with powerful connections commits suicide after confessing to a murder. That suicide is followed shortly by another, this time of a banker-turned-murderer. The young, ambitious reporter Jacob Flint smells a story and begins to pursue the truth he believes Rachel is the key to. The fact that she's beautiful and intriguing doesn't deter him, either. But right from the start, Rachel warns Jacob that he's playing a dangerous game. After all, his chance at the scoop comes because the senior, more experienced crime reporter is dying, and the accident that put him in the hospital may not have been as accidental as Scotland Yard believes. Jacob takes note of the warning but doesn't back down, investigating his mentor's death as well as the suicides and further deaths that follow. Soon, Jacob is finding his way through a labyrinth of police corruption, suspect romances, the glamorous theater world, and London's dark underbelly of secret societies and heinous crimes.

While Edwards doesn't lean as heavily on setting or criminal cleverness in this novel as he does in his other series, he does create a satisfyingly twisted tale with enough historical detail to settle it in its place and time. And Rachel Savernake, the character who started it all, is definitely captivating enough to carry the plot. Rachel moves in a world of corrupting power but is dedicated to exacting justice without regard to the status of the criminal. When some at Scotland Yard balk and settle for easier, more comfortable answers than those Rachel proposes, Rachel uses her own power and influence, as well as her relationships with Jacob and an up-and-coming inspector, to bring the story to a startling conclusion. And while it all gets tied up neatly at the end, very little, if anything, is what it seems in this novel, and Edwards keeps the surprises coming right to the finish.

Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, September 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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