This is likely my favorite book that I've read by Bernard Cornwell.
Although he always writes well-researched historical novels, many of
them are just a little bit too masculine and military-focused for my
taste. With this historical mystery set in 19th century London, he
achieves a more balanced milieu.
Rider Sandman returns to London a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo
expecting the respect given a military hero. However, he finds that in
his absence, his father gambled the family fortune away, and then
committed suicide, leaving him penniless and with an indelible stain
upon his reputation. To make things worse, his mother and sister
expect him to keep them in their accustomed idle and luxurious
lifestyle - they can't even imagine the shame of becoming working
On top of all this, Sandman's planned wedding seems to definitely be off.
Sandman's only source of income is now to play cricket matches -
something he's luckily good at. But is certainly not enough money to
sustain him, and so when Lord Sidmouth recommends him for a job, he's
quick to take it. It seems an easy commission - a portrait painter is
accused of raping and murdering a wealthy lady as she sat for her
portrait. It's sure that he's guilty, but an investigation needs to be
done - purely as a formality - before the man can be hanged.
Unfortunately, when Rider embarks upon his investigation, he quickly
becomes certain that the portrait painter is innocent. For one thing,
he's gay, so it seems very unlikely he would have murdered a woman in
a crime of passion, as it is being alleged. For another thing, the
maid who would have been able to confirm the painter's alibi has
Against Lord Sidmouth's wishes, the upright and honest Sandman
involves himself in a race against time to discover the truth before
the young painter is hanged...
Lots of dramatic tension and unexpected plot twists keep the book
exciting, as Cornwell takes the reader on a tour of the gritty,
realistic underside of London's criminal justice system.