Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Review - The Last Days of Newgate

The Last Days of Newgate by Andrew Pepper
Review by Jacqui Slaney
The Last Days of Newgate
As you have seen from my last few reviews, recently I have not been talking about books that I have only just read but books that I have read in the past and enjoyed.
This one is another one of those. I bought this book shorting after reading Ratcatcher by James McGee, as I thought that it would be similar, that Pyke, the hero of this story would be of the same style of McGee’s Hawkwood, I could not have been more wrong, though Hawkwood bend the rules- Pyke smashes them.  This is the description:
 St Giles, London, 1829: three people have been brutally murdered and the city simmers with anger and political unrest. Pyke, sometime Bow Street Runner, sometime crook, finds himself accidentally embroiled in the murder investigation but quickly realises that he has stumbled into something more sinister and far-reaching. In his pursuit of the murderer, Pyke ruffles the feathers of some powerful people and, falsely accused of murder himself, he soon faces a death sentence and the gallows of the Old Bailey. Imprisoned, and with only his uncle and the headstrong, aristocratic daughter of his greatest enemy, who believe in him, Pyke must engineer his escape, find the real killer and untangle the web of politics that has been spun around him. From the gutters of Seven Dials to the cells of Newgate prison, from the turmoil of 1800s Belfast to the highest levels of murky, pre-Victorian politics, THE LAST DAYS OF NEWGATE is a gripping, darkly atmospheric story with a fantastic, pragmatic - and reluctantly heroic - hero.
Pyke’s job is a Bow Street Runner but is sometimes not far from the criminals he is supposed to be catching. The book is quite dark and you get a real feel for the time in which Pyke lives by the excellent writing and descriptions of the places and of the characters with which he interacts. Some of the dialogue may be a little stilted at the start, but this is a new author, and to be fair the story is good enough so that this not distract at all.
The book starts by Pyke being asked to investigate robberies at a bank, but then the story really takes off with quite a horrible murder. The description is not for the faint hearted, as one of them is a baby that death stays with Pyke on his investigation and spurs him on. There is violence throughout the story, not least when Pyke finds himself accused of murder, and you find your self really gripped by the fast pace that the author has set for the story. The violence may be unsettling, but it is part of the world in which Pyke moves and very much part of him. 
I found myself changing my mind about Pyke as I read the book. I found myself disliking him, as Pyke is not an easy character to like, in fact in real life I doubt if you would want anything to do with him. He is completely ruthless, but does have some softer feelings, which I found made him a bit more human.  Pyke is not the normal run of the mill type hero, but then again as you read the story, it comes across quite clearly that the author was not planning to make him such. To do what he does, he has to hit back as hard as those around him do without too many qualms of conscience. This is shown very well when he takes his revenge at the end of the book.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a different type of detective story. This is a good read which excellent characters. It is the first of a series as well, so the writing gets better as the series goes on.  
9 out of 10