The Fatal Tree

Written by Jake Arnott
Review by Mike Ashworth

London, the 1720s. The underworld here is known as ‘Romeville’, while the scaffold at Tyburn is ‘The Fatal Tree’. This is the story of Edgworth Bess, whore and pickpocket. From the condemned cell at Newgate, Bess dictates her story to Billy Archer, a Grub Street hack and aspiring poet, who rubs shoulders with Swift and Defoe, while moving through the murky underworld of molly houses and thievery. This is a time when Jonathan Wild, self-styled ‘Thief Taker General’, brutally controls organised crime in the city. Bess falls in love with Jack Sheppard, arch-criminal and escape artist, and together they defy Wild, a dangerous strategy which will have fatal consequences for them both.

Based on actual historical figures, this book works on so many levels. It is a social history, a love story, and a tale of subterfuge and treachery. The times and culture of “Romeville” are effectively invoked by the clever use of language, supported by an extensive glossary at the end of the book. The reader is drawn in to a world of crime, punishment and rough justice. With a twist in its tail, this book makes for fascinating reading. Recommended.