It was in a carriage on the Necropolis Railway when Gilbert Payne refused an offer of help from Rachel Savernake. He had been thought dead, but had returned to England for his mother’s funeral. He either wouldn’t believe the threat to his life that she told him about was credible or simply didn’t care. Either way, Gilbert Payne never made it back to London.
Meanwhile Jacob Flint, a journalist who has crossed paths with Rachel before, is occupied by the trial of Clive Danskin for murder. But it is there Jacob meets Leonora Dobell, a criminologist with a fascination for the perfect murder. Is there such a thing? Quite possibly, it seems, for despite seeming destined for the noose, Danskin walks free.
The stage is set for a confrontation between all manner of wrongdoers – all roads lead to Mortmain Hall, but not everyone will walk away…
Gallows Court was a change of pace for Martin Edwards’ writing, and you could make a good case for it being a new sort of mystery novel. There are a few current writers who excel at wrapping a “proper” mystery inside a thriller – M W Craven is the obvious name that springs to mind – but Martin created a thriller set in the Golden Age of detective fiction, rather than the present day, and it worked beautifully. Gallows Court is a masterpiece that I have a sudden urge to re-read – because I have a sneaking suspicion that Mortmain Hall is even better and I want to check.
The major difference between the books is that one of the primary mysteries of the first book was Rachel Savernake and her agenda. While questions still surround her, she is much more in the open in this book, and she shares her page time with Jacob Flint, the reporter who was obsessed with her in the first book – and, it seems, might still be.
There is so much going on in this story, it’s hard to know where to start. Martin’s expertise in the Golden Age, in particular the true crimes that inspired the Detection Club, shows itself clearly here, as he adopts the same approach, using the Wallace case – see John Rhode’s The Telephone Call for possibly the most explicit use – and others as the back story for some of the characters herein. There is a secret society determined to… no, that’s a spoiler. There’s a genuine whodunit that creeps up on you. There are, as in Gallows Court, some genuine surprises along the way, especially one involving Flint at about the halfway point. And there is an interesting ending where… well, again spoilers, but don’t expect everything to be tied up in a neat bow.
Mortmain Hall is a fascinating book, one you can’t put down and one that will have you still thinking about it well after you’ve finished. Gallows Court was, I assume, intended as a standalone, but Martin has pivoted the characters into what appears to be an ongoing series. And I, for one, can’t wait to read more.
I’m tempted to recommend not to read any more reviews as the less you know, the better, but as I’m part of the Blog Tour – many thanks for the invite, by the way – it would be churlish not to encourage you to see everyone else gush about how great this book is.