Gallows Court (Rachel Savernake Golden Age Mysteries)

Written by Martin Edwards
Review by Valerie Adolph

London in 1930, grimy and fogbound, is an ideal setting for a series of killings horrific in both design and execution. Yet most of those killed have committed acts of atrocity so heinous that their own deaths might be seen as just retribution.  Trying to track down the killer is Jacob Flint, a young reporter who is still naive and curious. Making the issue more personal to him is the death, apparently accidental, of a kindly old reporter who was his mentor. But as the deaths of rich and famous men multiply, Jacob Flint somehow manages to be present at the time of the crime. Such good fortune sees him promoted to a senior position on the newspaper.

Behind each of the vicious killings he sees the hand of Rachel Savernake, daughter of the notorious Judge Savernake. At times Jacob seems close to Rachel, almost in her confidence. At other times – such as when his landlady and her daughter are murdered – Rachel seems far out of reach and she and her close circle of employees inevitably evil.

While Jacob Flint could never be called an anti-hero, he could be called a wimpy kid who gets beaten up dreadfully but still bounces back like a superhero. However, the identity of Rachel Savernake remains as mysterious as her motivation. For me, this mystery is deepened by occasional excerpts from Juliet Brentano’s journal.

The novel is complex with abundant surprises and an overall suspenseful atmosphere of evil, corruption and cruelty, focused on the ancient place of ultimate punishment, Gallows Court. The author, recipient of several prestigious awards, has given us a brilliantly researched, witty novel. However, I found the characters were manipulated rather than developed, and there was an overload of gratuitous cruelty and violence.