The Last Days of Newgate

Written by Andrew Pepper
Review by Marina Oliver


This is the first of a proposed series featuring Pyke, sometimes crook, sometimes Bow Street Runner. It is 1829. Peel is proposing controversial measures, the establishment of a regular Police Force, and Catholic Emancipation. The Bow Street Runners object to the first, which will sideline them. When a young Irish couple, one Catholic, one Protestant, and their newborn baby are brutally murdered, sectarian violence flares in London. Pyke tries to discover their killer, not knowing which of the powerful men around him are friends, which foes.

This is a potent mix of sectarian politics and raw violence, a richly-researched novel, (though small details have escaped the author, such as a zipped fly, which is eighty or more years too soon) with a provocative hero. Pyke has his own curious sense of morality. When his need arises he cheats, thieves, murders with brutal and merciless efficiency, and foments rebellion without much of a pang or remorse.

There were a few episodes with gaps which left me questioning, such as his escape from Newgate prison with the help of smuggled keys. How did his helpers find the right ones? And how did he escape from a pursuing mob? I was left with the impression that the author did not know and therefore slid over difficult explanations.

This gritty detective novel will appeal to those who like plenty of gore and bodies galore.