Book Review: Martin Edwards – Gallows Court

Winner of the CWA Diamond Dagger 2020, this is an enjoyable travel back to 1930 London, with an intricate plot populated by frequent mad twists, shocking illusions and more than one questionable (but entertaining) trip into farce…

Rarely does a book speak to me from the bookshelf and compel me to add it to my huge collection. And neither did ‘Gallows Court’; indeed, it was the sheer beauty of its sequel, ‘Mortmain Hall’, which achieved that. This just happened to be the one before, which I decided I had better read first so I knew what was going on in the second one. On my second trip to The Works in two days, it was the first book I saw. And the cover is even more beautiful on this one.

This is both difficult and easy to get into. I enjoyed the extremely fast plotting, where everything was written like a high-budget movie – down to the aesthetics of the scene and the desperate rush to fit everything into two hours. Only this is longer, and so much richer for it. It was difficult for it was impossible to actually know what was going on at any one point (which is perfect for a mystery!), and the writing is so intelligent that you have to be focusing for it to go in. Hence why it took over two weeks to read 400 pages. Not that I really minded being clueless…. if you really see anything which happens next here, you’re the next Hercule Poirot.

This book is part period mystery, maybe a la Agatha Christie. You’ve got a series of killings through London in the Golden Age, and a woman in Rachel Savernake with unknown motivations but seemingly at the centre of it all. She is also an amateur detective, who has proven her worth to the Metropolitan Police for solving a notorious crime just the year before, although is seen in the opening scene to be forcing a man to suicide by gunshot in his own home.

It also utilises the role of the incompetent, accidental hero in Jacob Flint, a man who experiences huge character growth throughout. Beginning only as a meek reporter who gets a mysterious tip off about the crime of the year (soon after the murder of the lead crime reporter of his newspaper), his constant exposure to horrific crimes turn him into a resilient individual who will plunge carelessly into any situation – but he always wants to act in the name of Good vs the evil that surrounds him. He’s rather like the reader in the way he constantly gets fooled by everyone else, while being given all of the answers in the most dramatic way possible. He turned up to a game of 4D chess with a Twister mat. And I think that’s why I loved reading things from his perspective – he was very relatable.

If I was to give it a contemporary comparison, it would be with the first season of Killing Eve. A mysterious, intelligient, glamorous female lead, likeable despite her many crimes, an intricately plotted, fast-paced thriller, and a willingness to take liberties with physical practicalities to create a chaotic backdrop. While the pace change in the second half of the book threatens to take this train off the corner of the tracks, it somehow holds it down – even if there is the fever dream-like presence of an ancient Greek torture device with a mind of its own. Even though the final sixty pages descends into complete farce, with no-one being who they really are (literally), it is exceedingly enjoyable to read.

Flitting from one action movie scene to another, the only word that truly sums ‘Gallows Court’ up is batshit. There is absolutely nothing shit about it though – and although it definitely alludes to higher moral meanings and attitudes than I have mentioned, if you want a fun read with a difference and satisfying conclusion, you’ll find it here. If I could give it six stars out of five, I would.

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