Book Review: Shadow of the Hangman by Edward Marston

My first book for 2016 was Shadow of the Hangman by Edward Marston.  Marston is famous for a number of crime series set in various historical time periods ranging from the 11th century through to World War I.

My introduction to this author was through his 18th century adventure series about the exploits of Captain Daniel Rawson, a soldier serving under the Duke of Marlborough during the Wars of the Spanish Succession. I have also read several of Marston's Victorian series featuring Inspector Colbeck, the Railway Detective.

Shadow of the Hangman is the first in Marston's new Regency crime series. It introduces identical-twin private detectives Peter and Paul Skillen, whose physical resemblance makes for some very entertaining moments and causes some heartache for one of the brothers.

The setting is 1815: the Battle of Waterloo has been fought and England is no longer at war with the French or the American colonies, though prisoners from both conflicts are still being held in prisons around the country.

Following a riot and massacre at Dartmoor prison, two American seamen escape and make their way to London hoping to tell the authorities their version of what happened during the riot without being recaptured. Over at the Home Office, a respected cleaning lady disappears leaving behind untidy offices and overflowing waste paper baskets. Has she run off with a lover or is her disappearance a part of something more sinister?

The Bow Street Runners are called in to provide security for an upcoming public function at which the Home Secretary and other dignitaries will be present. While their nemeses, the Skillen brothers, are hired to investigate the disappearance of the cleaning lady and to track down the American fugitives. This does not go down well with Micah Yeomans, a Principal Officer of the Bow Street Runners, and even though his men have not been assigned these cases he is determined to solve them before the Skillen brothers, by fair means or foul.

I enjoyed this first offering of the new series from Edward Marston. It has a great line-up of characters made more interesting by the protagonists being twin brothers, identical in looks but dissimilar in nature. Multiple sub-plots keep the pace of the story moving and the animosity that Micah Yeomans feels for the Skillens adds another level of suspense as he plots to thwart their investigations and bring them into disrepute. The Bow Street Runners are outsmarted by the Skillens more than once, sometimes unintentionally, bringing a dash of humour to the story.

As in all the Edward Marston novels I've read to-date, the historical detail is subtly introduced. In Shadow of the Hangman it is present in sufficient quantity to transport the reader back to post-Waterloo era London with all its social and political problems.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the Skillen brothers get up to next and the continued rivalry between them and the Bow Street Runners, which I'm sure will be another entertaining read. The Bow Street Rivals has all the elements to be another successful series for Edward Marston.

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