Hangman’s Corner

Hangman’s Corner by Peter King. Amateur detectives in historical mysteries come from a broad variety of professions (or in the case of the Lords and Ladies, perhaps none at all). There are magazine writers and newspaper reporters, physicians and apothecaries, schoolmistresses and brothel managers, architects and cabinet makers, traveling chapmen and the innkeepers they visit, but Peter King adds a job to the list I hadn’t seen before now: hansom cab driver. Ned Parker is the lead character in this debut story set in 1870 London. Ned’s got a curious nature, some might say nosy, but when a fellow driver is charged with murder because a passenger is found dead in his cab, Ned feels obligated to step in and investigate, in part because he ferried the same passenger earlier in the day. What Ned stumbles into is a complex situation involving the city’s two most dangerous gangs, the British Navy, and a stolen pair of silver candlesticks. Ned persists, despite the threats to himself and his associates, and his digging eventually pays off with a successful resolution.

King does a nice job of introducing his main character, though at times Ned’s life seems overly complicated: he’s on the committee attempting to unionize the 6,000 cab drivers in the city, as patriarch of the family he regularly visits his sister and nephew, and he’s in a steady relationship with an aspiring, ambitious actress. All of these activities give depth to Ned, and King does manage to link all of them to the central mystery, something other authors sometimes struggle to achieve. One secondary character I would have liked to have seen more of was Detective Sergeant Jackson, who only made intermittent appearances, though he was the main policeman on the case. Given his profession, Ned travels freely throughout London, and as narrator of the story, he regales us with information about each destination his fares seek. Sometimes, this information can be distracting, as can the many, many other drivers mentioned in passing, to the point where it all seems a bit forced upon readers. But this a minor flaw compared to the many good qualities of the book. I look forward to more adventures with Ned, his horse Perseus, his girl Millie, and the other hansom drivers.


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