Book Review: A Coin for the Hangman, by Ralph Spurrier

Publisher: Hookline Books   |   Publication date: 5th April 2016

Coin for the Hangman My Review

A coin for the hangmanA Coin for the Hangman is emotionally grim in a few places, yet the potential miscarriage of justice, albeit fictional, is absolutely fascinating and utterly gripping.

It witnesses the final curtain call for one of Britain’s last executioners, Mr Reginald Manley. Holding down an ordinary occupation by day, catching the train along with everyone else, yet called upon by a higher authority to provide a ‘service’ to his country when the need arose. The arrival of an unmistakable envelope to his home address signified only one thing to his wife – duty was calling for her husband, and she couldn’t help but despise him for it.

You’d be right to wonder why anyone would choose to walk this career path voluntarily. Sweeping from the past to current events, this intriguing fictional account draws from his personal experiences during WW2 and the effects this has on his future after witnessing horrors beyond any human comprehension.

As this compelling tale unravels we come to appreciate that no one truly escaped the camps. Not the prisoners, not even Reg and his fellow army buddies, all of their memories howling constantly to chip away at their very souls. Each new chapter brings fresh appeals for their traumatised character traits, leaving you to draw conflicting conclusions regarding their current behaviour.

It’s tragically apparent that these effects touched others in Germany and on home turf, both physically and mentally. And yet there is a unique young man he will come to meet in his part time line of work that will haunt him more than anything in his entire life. While not directly attributed to the war effort, Henry Eastman’s acute, yet troubled and innocent mind is slowly being eroded by current events in his young life.

Henry’s character is painted as immediately flawed. Book-loving, sharp witted, and polite to a fault, he towers over his peers and doesn’t make friends easily, despite being a confectioner’s son. He has made some questionable decisions, but then again, so have many around him, or so we come to understand.

So, how could someone as inoffensive as Henry Eastman find himself acquainted with Reginald Manley? Well, life has been brewing a storm, for both of them it seems.

The plot is too precious to spoil in any further detail. Its intricate nature will have you fooled at first, it certainly did me. I was left wondering where it was going in the first few pages, with a book seller claiming to have come by some personal effects of someone whose estate included some well-worn books of possible interest, along with the pages from an intimate diary of the condemned man, where he calmly asserts his innocence and comes to terms with everything that preceded his demise. His frank and personal script appears in the final chapters and what is revealed is quite something.

This diary is the catalyst for A Coin for the Hangman. One small spark creates a historically disturbing, yet incredibly absorbing work of fiction. It has a morbid beauty as it is written in an entirely believable manner, which left me engrossed until the early hours to see if justice was indeed ever served.

Rating: 5/5

(My sincere thanks to Hookline Books for providing a paperback copy of this title for review purposes.)

Coin for the Hangman Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Booksellers never know what they might find in an estate sale. When our man finds the tools of England’s last hangman, along with the diary of a condemned man he executed, he knows he has a mystery to solve. Was there a miscarriage of justice? Did the wrong man die at the noose? And just who is telling the truth? A mystery that has readers guessing to the very last page. If you like fiction by Robert Goddard and Peter Lovesey, don’t miss A Coin for the Executioner.

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Coin for the Hangman Author Profile

(Courtesy of the paperback copy)

Ralph Spurrier had a long history in the book trade – from Foyles to MacMillan to Victor Gollanz – before launching Post Mortem Books, which specialises in the sale of crime fiction. He studied creative writing at the University of Sussex. A Coin for the Hangman is his first novel.

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