The Sign of the Gallows (A Lucy Campion Mystery 5)

Written by Susanna Calkins
Review by J. Lynn Else

London, 1667. Lucy Campion is traveling to market when she’s almost run over by two men with a handcart. Subsequently, she discovers a dead man hanging from a tree. As she goes to report her find to the constable, Lucy runs into Adam Hargrave, who’s freshly returned from the New World, a man she’s still sorting out her feelings for. After all, she was a servant in Adam’s household for years and of lower standard. Yet, Adam has feelings for her too. After the man’s body is reported and brought to the morgue, a strange cipher is discovered in his pocket, leading everyone to believe he didn’t commit suicide. Was he murdered by the men who ran into Lucy? If so, she could be in great danger if the mysterious message isn’t decoded in time.

After the first chapter, I sensed this book was part of a series. However, it was easy to catch onto the character dynamics without the necessity of lengthy recaps (despite this being book 5). The historical setting is beautifully nuanced. This is a London that’s been ravaged by the plague and the Great Fire, and the cultural implications of both are well-explored. Lucy is an intriguing, hard-working woman whose spirited curiosity propels the investigation forward in organic and character-developing ways. She plausibly holds her own in a male-dominated world. Clues are uncovered through a variety of surprising twists and turns. Thus, I kept wanting to read “just one more chapter” to see what was discovered next. Lucy’s trade as a printer’s apprentice and traveling bookseller is enjoyable to read about, an opportunity due in part to the reduced pool of male apprentices. There’s also a lovely appreciation for the printed word underlying the narrative. This is a delightful character-driven, suspenseful murder mystery. Recommended.