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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A tale of rough justice and the abuse of human rights, 14 Nov 2003
This review is from: Gallows Thief (Hardcover)
The title, "Gallows Thief" refers to a person who robs the gallows of victims to hang, not to a thief who gets hanged. The hero, Captain Sandman, an ex-soldier, (poor and desperate for work) has been offered a job that he isn't qualified for but he can't refuse because he needs the money. The King's wife has made waves regarding a convicted murderer who is soon to be hanged. It's all very inconvenient for the home office so they need someone to investigate and (most importantly) to confirm the felon's guilt. It's not about justice; it's about order. Sandman doesn't see it that way. He's shocked at the casual way people are convicted and sentenced to hang on the basis of very little, if any, evidence. He doesn't like the man whose guilt he is employed to confirm but he becomes convinced that the man is innocent, so he sets out to prove that the conviction was unsafe. He has one week to achieve his goal, before the sentence is carried out. There are forces working to undermine his efforts but he manages to get a very small but effective team to help him. He's a determined man but the odds seem to be stacked against him.
Bernard Cornwell goes to a lot of trouble to get his historical details correct and he has a nice, easy to read, writing style. The result is, that he writes good books and once a person has read one of his books, it is likely they will want to read others. This is the 4th of his books that I've read. I enjoyed it, but I enjoyed the other 3 more. The story was good and the historical details seemed convincing, as you would expect. However, it seemed a little bit too dependent on coincidences and the final outcome teetered on one person's phobia that seemed far too convenient. Having said that, this book proved one thing to me. It is often said (usually in a complaining tone) that you can't enjoy a book if you aren't able to like the characters. I didn't like any of the characters in this book (except for one right at the end - a man sentenced to hang for stealing one small item) but then they probably wouldn't have seemed nice to people like us, living in this age in an affluent, liberal society. Life was hard then and a hard life makes hard people. If one of the soft people living in our society today were to be transported back to the early 19th century for a couple of days, they might well need to be in weekly therapy for a couple of years to get over the horror of it all. Cornwell has captured that squalor and harshness. Dickens would probably have been impressed.
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