Launch party for Gallows Court by Martin Edwards
Partners in Crime (sorry, just had to use that caption):
Chrissie Poulson, Martin Edwards, me, and the new book
When I started this blog I didn’t know what to expect: I certainly didn’t predict that the future would hold some great new friends, and the occasional rather excellent social event.
This year so far there have been the Edgars in New York, Bodies from the Library in June, and events for the launches of Lissa Evans’s and Sarah Ward’s new books. And now, a very fancy do for Martin Edwards’ new book, Gallows Court, in London.
I attended with another friend, the writer & blog favourite Chrissie Poulson: she had asked me to help with some research for her new book on the way to the party, and because I am such a good friend I agreed to have a cocktail in the Ritz with her so we could check it out. (You’ll have to wait to read her new book to find the relevance of this, although I believe it is flagged in her last one, the marvellous Cold Cold Heart).
So then we moved along Piccadilly: Martin’s event was held in Hatchard’s, a very nice and upmarket bookstore. There was a short presentation and Q and A led by crime aficionado Barry Forshaw.
Martin is known for his own (mostly contemporary) crime novels; for overseeing the British Library reprints of 1930s crime books; and for his two magisterial reference books, The Golden Age of Murder and The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.
His new book is something of a departure for him, and it is knockout good. He decided he wanted to do something different – he explained on Tuesday that it was the character of Rachel Savernake who came to him first. He wrote a short story about her, and then realized he wanted to write a book about her.
Gallows Court is set in 1930 (with flashbacks) and is more of a thriller than a murder story as such: Martin explained that when doing his research into The Detective Club for The Golden Age book, he read how much some of the members, including Dorothy L Sayers, disapproved of thrillers. They looked down on them, and didn’t want their authors in the Club. Martin wondered if he could write a thriller that might have passed muster with them, and any reader is bound to say that he succeeded.
Rachel Savernake is the centre of the book: she is a young woman, fabulously wealth and stylish. She has bought a huge house in London, and is attended by some trusted servants, and is obviously up to something big. But is it good or bad? Is she heroine or villain? What about her father, the now-dead Judge, and his strange friends? There is a young journalist, Jacob Flint, who is intrigued by her and trying to find out more. She is way ahead of him, but he keeps plugging away at it. There are flashbacks to a time some years earlier, when Rachel and some of the other characters were living on the rather Gothic Gaunt Island, a remote spot off the coast of Cumberland. Gallows Court turns out to be a very sinister address in London, the kind of place Dickens excelled in creating, with a most creepy atmosphere. And there are some very imaginative murders...
There are many things to love about the book: one is the fabulous women characters – the good, the bad and the uncertain. There are frequent changes of POV, and this is beautifully handled: never confusing or annoying or misleading.
Although of course we want to be misled somewhat in a crime book – and of course Martin does that superbly too. It is, I think, a simple fact that people who read a lot of crime books are alert to plot twists and turns. When we read of a new book advertised as having ‘killer twists’, we really WANT that to be true, there’s nothing we like better. But actually – usually we can see it coming a mile off. When you’ve read a lot of crime books, it just isn’t that difficult. So another great thing about Martin’s book is that he fools us, over and over.
As a devoted crime reader himself, he knows how we think, and how to use our perceptions against us. Can’t really say more for fear of spoilers, but the book was full of surprises, and kept me guessing right till the end. And it is a very complex plot, with plenty of proper investigation and glimpses of other lives. It is not a pastiche, it’s not someone pretending that he is writing a book that might have appeared in the 1930s: it’s a historical novel, he knows when he is writing and who he is writing for.
And there is some really good news – he is writing a followup. Can’t wait.
The book is of course very well-researched – and I did give Martin some minor tips on clothes, for which he has very generously thanked me in the acknowledgements.
So I have picked out some 1930ish outfits that I think Rachel might have worn…
From Kristine’s photostream.