THE LAST DAYS OF NEWGATE
Andrew Pepper

 


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Allen & Unwin, September 2006
Reviewed by Sally Roddom

THE LAST DAYS OF NEWGATE is set in London in 1829. Pyke is a bow-street runner who walks a very fine line between law enforcer and criminal. As well as being a runner, Pyke manages a gin house with his mistress, and carries out private investigations for well heeled clients. Pyke is asked by Lord Edmonton to investigate an employee suspected of being behind the disappearance of money at the bank. Following the suspect, Pyke enters London’s notorious rookeries, putrid and dangerous and home to the desperately poor and the desperately criminal. It is also where he finds the horrendously slaughtered bodies of a young Irish couple and their new born baby. Pyke links this murder to a Parliamentary debate at the time. This debate is about the Catholic Emancipation Act, which has been proposed to reduce the possibility of an Irish uprising. Irish Catholics, already seething over the proposed Act, riot in the streets over the murder and Pyke gets sidetracked into investigating the deaths. This personal investigation leads to Pyke being framed for another murder and imprisoned in Newgate. He needs to get out and find out really committed the murders and why.

THE LAST DAYS OF NEWGATE is a debut novel for Andrew Pepper, and the start of a planned series. Pyke (you never discover his first name) is a strange mixture of a character. He is an avowed thief and swindler, and not averse to committing murder if he feels it is justified, yet he appalled at the inhuman murder of innocents. He takes offence at people who try to swindle him, yet he himself is willing to swindle others. He has a soft interior, and is capable of deep love, and cold focussed revenge. Despite these contradictions he is a likeable character and the end of the book sets up the opportunity for Pyke to return in future adventures. THE LAST DAYS OF NEWGATE is an easy read, but is not easy to read. There are some exceptionally gory scenes, something I am not personally comfortable with. Pepper has also produced vivid imaginary of the debauched, stinking underworld of pre-Victorian London. The book is full of the smoky, squalid political and social upheavals of London of the time. There are a few historical inconsistencies, and Pepper says in a post note that he doesn’t claim to be an expert – he only wanted to evoke the historical backdrop for his story. I like the honesty of this, and he has succeeded in conjuring up in my mind the time, place and history of the story. If you like historical mysteries, and don't mind gore, then this book is worth a read.

Nov 2006 review originally published on Murder & Mayhem

 

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