A Hangman for Ghosts

Written by Andrei Baltakmens
Review by Ann Chamberlin

New South Wales, 1829. Gabriel Carver is the convict who stepped forward to serve as hangman. He does his best to ease the passing of those condemned to die, judging rope and the prisoner’s weight with the accuracy of overuse of his skills. And then the female prisoner screaming with what seems like madness, newly arrived and seemingly guilty of murdering her wealthy employer, turns out to be Carver’s estranged wife. He knows she didn’t do it, and this is proved when two other murders lead to an intricate plot by which, for the right price, convicts can play the system that condemned them and gain passage home.

I have always wanted to know more about what life in the convict colonies must have been like. Baltakmens demonstrates that it was not all unrelieved horror and cut-throat depravity at the mercy of the system, although there is plenty of that: prostitution and drink to ease the sharp grief of never being able to return to Britain. Gabriel Carver is a great character, and Baltakmens’ style is intelligent and evocative. For some reason, I found the characters a little difficult to follow which, for an intricate mystery plot is important. For starters, too many of them had names starting with M, which is easy enough to fix.