Intrepid photographer Sarah Bain and her motley crew of detectives are back to hunt criminals in the seedy underbelly of Victorian London—but little do they know, the darkness may lurk closer than they first divined
Photographer Sarah Bain and her friends, Lord Hugh Staunton and sometime street urchin Mick O’Reilly, are private detectives with a new gig—photographing crime scenes for London’s Daily World newspaper. The Daily World is the latest business venture of their sole client, Sir Gerald Mariner, a fabulously wealthy and powerful banker.
One cold, snowy January morning, Sarah, Hugh and Mick are summoned to the goriest crime scene they’ve ever encountered. A pub owner named Harry Warbrick has been found hanged and decapitated amid evidence of foul play. His murder becomes a sensation for being England’s top hangman but was met with the same fate that he inflicted on hundreds of criminals.
Sir Gerald announces that the Daily World—meaning Sarah and her friends—will investigate and solve Harry Warbrick’s murder before the police do. The contest pits Sarah against the man she loves, Police Constable Barrett. She and her friends discover a connection between Harry Warbrick’s murder and the most notorious criminal he ever executed—Amelia Carlisle, the “Baby-Butcher,” who murdered hundreds of infants placed in her care.
Something happened at Amelia’s execution. The Official Secrets Act forbids the seven witnesses present to divulge any information about it. But Harry had a bad habit of leaking tips to the press. Sarah and her friends suspect that one of the other witnesses killed Harry to prevent him from revealing a secret related to the execution. What is the secret, and who hanged the hangman? From award-winning author Laura Joh Rowland, The Hangman’s Secret builds suspense about the darkness that lurks within and the deadly secrets that beg to be revealed.
Rowland finally hits her stride in her third mystery featuring photographer Sarah Bain (after 2018's A Mortal Likeness). In 1890, Sarah is working for a tabloid, the Daily World, along with her two partners in investigation, Hugh Staunton, a lord, and Mick O'Reilly, a 14-year-old former street urchin. At her boss's request, the trio visit the London pub where Harry Warbrick, a retired hangman and the pub's owner, apparently hanged himself. Certain irregularities at the scene suggest foul play. Warbrick kept the ropes from his most famous executions, but the one he used on convicted baby killer Amelia Carlisle, "who took in unwanted babies for a fee and supposedly farmed them out to adoptive parents or raised them herself," has disappeared. The investigators' search for a motive for Warbrick's murder leads to a reexamination of the Carlisle case and the ruffling of some powerful feathers. The plotting and characters are an improvement over the prior two books, even if not at the level of Rowland's best work in her Sano Ichiro series.