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A Very English Hangman: The Life and Times of Albert Pierrepoint Hardcover – 1 Oct 2006

2.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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  • Executioner Pierrepoint: An Autobiography
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Corvo Books; 1st Edition edition (1 Oct. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0954325567
  • ISBN-13: 978-0954325565
  • Product Dimensions: 14.8 x 2.3 x 22.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 217,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Fascinating, macabre...a vivid picture of a culture in transition
from the Victorian to the modern Elizabethan age.
-- Irish Independent, October 2006

Well-written and intelligent. -- The Financial Times, October 2006

About the Author

Leonora Klein won the PFD Life Writing prize at the University
of East Anglia's prestigious School of Literature and Creative Writing.
Before taking up writing she practised as a barrister for ten years. She
lives in London. A Very English Hangman is her first book.


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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I loved this: an incredibly well-orchestrated mix of biography, social history and, at the centre, looming out of the darkness, the complex and compelling character of Albert Pierrepoint himself - whose career as hangman lasted almost 30 years. Underneath it all, bubble big themes: justice, violence, the lure of death. An accomplished, meticulously researched and deeply rewarding work.

Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a terrific book and fully deserves the glowing Times review that led me to buy it. Klein eloquently gets to the heart of the political, cultural and personal conflicts surrounding capital punishment in Britain in the twentieth century. She tells the story of Pierrepoint by bringing a fresh eye to the more notorious cases that culminated at the end of his rope. The book is intelligent story-telling, offering a fascinating glimpse into the life of a man caught up in a rip-tide of social change. The string-em-up brigade might be disappointed - this is no executioner's diary - but I was deeply moved by the deft and sensitive handling of a difficult subject.
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Format: Hardcover
I read this book after reading Pierrepoint's autobiography, so I had already formed some sort of opinion of the man. It would be difficult to read this book without reading the autobiog.
The author makes clear her intentions of what the book is about, but part way through it I realised that it seemed to have lost its way completely. The book critcises the autobiography, but also gives a lot of detail about the cases of some of the people that Pierrepoint hanged, eg. Bentley, Amery, Evans and Christie, Ruth Ellis. After he resigned, he became a man that many people were fascinated by. Memorabilia to do with his work, what there was of it, was much sought after. The author goes in search of some of the people who have some of these items - and finds them. For me, the best part of the book comes right at the end when she finds herself face-to-face with Pierrepoint's rope, amongst other things, and her reaction to them. For a moment, she stared into the abyss of execution, and felt it. Full marks there to the author - I was almost there with her.
However, overall the book is spoiled because it is very subjective to the author's opinion of Pierrepoint, instead of being objective. It is easy for us to sit here in the 21st century and criticise the gov't of the 1920s/30s/40s/50s. Britain had been hanging people for 100s of years and hangmen were an accepted part of the picture. Pierrepoint did not sit on a jury or be a judge. Plenty of people applied for the job of hangman - even women. And hanging continued for 8 years after Pierrepoint's resignation. If Pierrepoint had not hanged these people, someone else would have done instead. But at every opportunity the author nit-picks at everything he does: she says that he was "unmoved by..." How does she know? She doesn't.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a great book. It's not straight biography. It's not a list of the people Pierrepoint executed. It's a brilliantly written, beautifully structured story of England and English attitudes to the death penalty. It's about class, hypocrisy, politics and guilt. Like all great non fiction this book is so much more than the sum of its parts. It reminded me of Susan Sontag, Janet Malcolm and WG Sebald.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not really sure which book it wants to be - a straight autobiography of Pierrepoint, a history of capital punishment within English criminal justice in the early 20th century, or a potted history of famous english murders over a similar period. Generally well written, and never less than interesting, but somehow manages to be less than the sum of its parts, and one can't help feeling that there is missed potential given the scope of the material.
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Format: Hardcover
As another reviewer says, this is a book which is unsure what it wants to be about - the reader must decide whether it is meant to be about Pierrepoint, about a handful of well known post war murders or about capital punishment in the 20th century and its abolition. It seems to try to be all three, but fails.

What we do get are the author's opinions. Writing as a barrister, not a historian, the author fails to have much sympathy or understanding of values of a previous age, and tends to scoff at those who have different views to her (a late twentieth century liberal). And why we need her opinions about the journey to Kew by train and the National Archives is unclear - but her unstinting praise for that worthy institution might be less than it is had she tried to obtain access to certain murder files in the 1940s and 1950s (and onward), because its a case of data protection overriding FOI.

The murder cases chosen for selection - Evans/Christie, Ruth Ellis, Bentley/Craig are all well known and the author makes little, if any, original contribution to the discussion of these. She is happy to accept Ludovic Kennedy's interpretation of the first of these at face value, without consulting original sources (easily available at the National Archives) and is aware of differing interpretations of this case. She does not mention that Ellis wounded an innocent bystander in her murder of her lover, which did much to reduce sympathy for her. Nor does she mention the case of another woman hanged for murder in post war Briton, for which there was no public sympathy (perhaps because she was Greek and middle aged).
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