By setting Gallows Thief
in the Regency period, Bernard Cornwell is able to use his customary skills of characterisation and razor-sharp plotting against a vividly realised new backdrop.
It is Britain in the 1820s. After the wars with France, with unemployment high and soldiers paid off, the government lives in mortal fear of social unrest. The solution is draconian punishment for any crime, and thousands die on the gallows. But despite this, it was possible to petition the King and instigate an investigation. Cornwell's new hero Robert Hawke is a hero of Waterloo struggling to repay his family debts when he becomes involved in the case of a man waiting to be hanged in Newgate prison. Given the job by the Home Secretary of investigating the man's guilt or innocence, Hawke finds himself knee-deep in labyrinthine plots involving bribes, sedition and a massive conspiracy of silence. As this suggests, the contemporary parallels are never far away.
The world Cornwell has conjured for us is as richly drawn as any in his distinguished career: gentlemen's clubs and taverns, haughty aristocrats, fashionable painters and their mistresses, and professional cut-throats; all this creates a heady melange that is just as impressive as anything in Cornwell's Sharpe series. --Barry Forshaw
'What a very fine writer Mr Cornwell has become.' -- The Economist