A HANGMAN FOR GHOSTS BY ANDREI BALTAKMENS
Publication Date: July 1, 2018
Top Five Books
Paperback & eBook; 288 Pages
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I loved this book.
Not only is the historical fiction interesting, but Baltakmens writing is such that you feel transported back to 1850's Australia, penal colonies, and London. The descriptions reminded me so much of Dickens.
The mystery is solid, and the links all fit but are not at all obvious. There's even a really nice little surprise about 3/4 of the way in that made me me say, "Ahhhhhhhhhha" out loud while sitting at my desk. Very nice touch.
Carver figured out who the murderer was before I did. I may have even said, "How the heck did he know?" outloud again. *rolling my eyes at myself here*
I also appreciated the female roles and their very important placements in the narrative. Survivors, each of them, in her own way. I felt saddest for young Nan Tucker who was swallowed whole by the system right when she was beginning to find her way and was most impressed by Ruth Tremaine...yep, Ruth...she worked the system for her own agenda and left more than a few men in her wake.
I also love historical fiction that schools me (in a nice way) on a topic I knew nothing about. I felt for these characters...truly, each of them, in his or her own way, was damaged. For survival sake, looking out for #1 was vital, no matter the cost or who you have to throw under the bus on the way. And, even though that sounds negative, it's really not. The way Baltakmens tells this story, you can even see why the criminals acted the way they did.
These were hard times (see what I did there?). Most of the world didn't live in homes full of servants who kept the fires lit and food on the table. Most of the world had to scrap and steal and sell just to keep themselves or their families fed. Many children had to survive on their own. On the other side of the river, the convicts are banished and live even worse lives than you can imagine for the very same reasons. And the rich get richer off the backs of the poorest.
That's the world of A Hangman for Ghosts, and if you like that kind of ride, this one's for you.
The Cast of Characters
Gabriel Carver, convict hangman, executioner to the warder of Sydney Gaol
The surgeon, Peter Moynihan
The overseer, Ralph Devers
Meg Harper - young woman falsely accused of murder - formerly Carver's "wife"
Matthew Staines - the emancipist
Ruth Tremaine- Staines' runaway wife
Nan Tucker or Whistling Nan - a very young prostitute who gets caught in the middle
Mother O'Doul and her son Callum
Captain Pryor - the soldier who abandons his troops
Sidmouthe - opium addicted clerk to the magistrate Foyle
Constable Ellington - the policeman assigned to Carver
Mrs. Antonia Fitchett - wife (of convenience) of the police magistrate
Archibald Fitchett - the police magistrate
Jankle and Sons - cargo business, convict transport
Oliver Kempe, convict, secretary
Sergeant Hardacre - evil guard on board one of the hulks
Full daylight spread over Sydney Town. No shadows remained. No relief from the sun in the vastness of this continent rendered prison, a Golgotha of the spirit. (12)
"The problem with common sense is that every man's common sense conforms to his prejudices," said Carver. (36)
"There are but two ways a convict can return to England. Serve out the sentence, or get an absolute pardon from the governor himself. Any other escape to an English or Irish port is but a passage to the gallows." (71)
"And to survive here, and prosper, I begin to see, you must perforce still the whispers of the past in your head. We should all need a sort of slaughterman for memories, a hangman for ghosts." (73)
"I have a convict maid, a convict cook, convicts to water my garden. I have heard the children playing at games of lashing and shackling. I have known babes that threaten their convict nursemaids with execution. I am as familiar with transportation and assignment, the whole grand and awful design, as you. I am a magistrate's wife, and I am as close confined by that as any felon." (92)
Death and the Lady, thought the colonel, closing his teeth on the end of his pipe. There is our subject this evening, assuredly: death and the lady. (103)
"The question is, will you stand by, mewling about your misfortune in Sydney Gaol, while the old woman hobbles about and makes her own trouble, or will you take a man's part and set to?" (152)
"Whether you return or no, there will be no further contact with my wife, in word or thought or deed, or I will not forbear to avoid her ruin, or yours." (155)
Eleven men, bearded, lean, and haggard - for to feed a man on the hulks was to cut into their profit - resembling so many goblins gathered in a ruined palace. (179)
The hulk groaned and dead water shivered in its bowels, like a leviathan of the deep with poisoned dreams. (182)
"There's a dog that hears his master's voice even when the master ain't near. Let's see where he runs." (220)
"Nothing will come of nothing." (234) from King Lear
A company of ghosts, therefore. The ghosts of pride, and rage, and longing, of drunkenness, of gentleness, of boldness, determination, guile, thrift, and labour, thievery and despair, banishment and home-longing, sent back to haunt the shores they had quit under the weight of crime and judgement. (244)
The great city sighed as evening closed in, and the church bells, from Westminster to the slums and rookeries of Limehouse and Rotherhithe, began their tolling for evensong and repentance. (252)
Historical "stuff" I've been Googling
Macquarie Harbor - Hell's gate
The Female Factory
The Rats' Line as it applies to convicts/prisons - first time I Googled this, I saw wayyyyy more rats than I ever wanted to...y'all, some of those rats were bigger than housecats!
The Rum Rebellion
the hulks (prison ships)
Andrei Baltakmens was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, of Latvian descent. He has a Ph.D. in English literature, focused on Charles Dickens and Victorian urban mysteries.
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