How the Hangman Lost his Heart


London, 1746. When Alice’s Uncle Frank is executed for supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite cause, his niece is determined to bring his body home for burial. The executioner Dan Skinslicer, a kind man in spite of his trade—‘Hand always steady, steel always sharp’—tells her that Uncle Frank’s head is to be spiked on Temple Bar as a warning to others. He advises her to take the body home and be thankful that it wasn’t quartered and sent to various parts of the kingdom.

But Alice is a spirited girl as well as pretty and she refuses to leave without the head, even if she has to climb Temple Bar herself to get it. That night, she is halfway through her dangerous and gruesome task, when she is spotted by the sadistic Major Slavering, who sends Captain Hew Ffrench up after her. Hew is terrified by heights, so Alice has to rescue him, too.

Hew is plainly very taken with her, and Dan Skinslicer is on her side, but what can they do against Major Slavering and his men? They risk being labelled traitors, too, and having their own heads spiked on Temple Bar. How are they going to escape?

Frankly (excuse the pun) there’s not much history here. How a respectable girl can travel several hundred miles alone in 1746 beats me, let alone how Dan’s nagging wife manages to get a divorce at a period when it needed an Act of Parliament and a deep purse. Still, one learns a lot about hanging, drawing and quartering, which I’m sure will appeal to the ghoul in most children.

However, it’s a terrific read: pacy, funny, nail-bitingly exciting and based on the true story of an ancestor of the author’s. Children of 10+ will love it.

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(UK) £4.99

(UK) 0802796729