The Hangman's Secret

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 25 Dec 2018

Member Reviews

Private detectives, a gruesome crime scene, a race against time to solve the mystery...yes please! Highly enjoyable. Could not put it down!
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The third in a series and in my opinion the best so far, the mystery keeps you guessing and the characters seem to come alive a great read
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Laura Rowland immerses the reader in a dark late Victorian mystery, the Hangman's Secret.   The hangman is dead and there are concerns that one of his victim's was not hanged.  The female photographer and the investigative reporter for a tabloid newspaper uncover corruption at the London jail and in the officials surrounding the case.  Who will win out? The police, the journalists or the corrupt officials ?  Read this noirish story.
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Sadly this book was a bit too slow burning for me.
And there was another problem: I haven't realized that this book is the third book in a series until I was far far in and often too confused why I lacked informations.

So me not liking this book too much is for sure not the books fault, but mine. I'll see to read the first two books again and then we'll see if I understand the third book better.

In general the ideas of a female reporter, detective and reporter in the 19th century working together with a homosexual and a police officer was quite entertaining and a great idea. Picking up old crimes like jack the Ripper and others and giving them new live is always nice to read about and I liked that the protagonists were not so e crazy curious teenagers but a full grown woman with her own problems and desires.

Over all impression is, that if you love historical books and slow burning crime scenes, then this is the right book for you!

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me a free review copy :) This doesn't cross my honest opinion in any way.
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After reading a few chapters, I decided this book held no interest for me at this time nor was it a good fit for my blog.  I elected not to finish the book now, but it may well be a case of "the wrong book at the wrong time" syndrome and I might be willing to try it again in the future.  Thank you to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to sample this title.
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Dnf ed at 20%. I couldn’t connect to the characters or the plot and had to dnf it. The writing could not hold my attention and I found myself reading the same page again and again without grasping anything.
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An unlikely trio joins together to solve crimes.  Working as a newspaper reporter and photographer, the trio has access to crime scenes where they see things the police don't.  Their day jobs give them the perfect cover to move through areas where they normally would not be seen.  The interaction and comradery between the three of them makes the story more interesting and entertaining.  The fact that they are able to solve crimes without a badge, while not an original story, still makes this a worth while read.
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Interesting story with lots of twists and turns. It's quite a mystery. Easy to read and holds interest on every page. Great characters and descriptions of scenes making story easy for the mind to picture. This is enjoyable yet different than the usual suspense thriller, in a superb  way!
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I liked this book. The story moved at a good speed. The characters Sarah Bain, Mick and Lord Hugh were believable with hidden secrets to tempt you to read more to discover their faults and strengths. I was never bored and the descriptions were sometimes awful but seemed accurate given the time period and the wealth of the characters. I would like to read more by this author.
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When it comes to reading, I love the Victorian period. There’s something about the grimy glamour of London, of steam mills, of murder in back alleyways… (ahem) that always really grips me. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it does mean that The Hangman’s Secret was the perfect fit when it came to a bit of light winter reading.
Confession time: this is the third book in a series, which I didn’t know when I picked it up. Happily for me, though, the book romps along at such a pace- and fills you in succinctly on what’s happened in the first two instalments- that I never really found that a problem. We’re deposited straight into the lives of Sarah Bain, photographer and part-time detective, and her colleagues as they try to solve the gruesome mystery of a murdered hangman.
Right from the start, I really liked the worldbuilding. From catching the underground train at Aldgate station to visiting Newgate prison, the London that Rowland conjures feels very lived in, fand very authentic. The only problem I had was when modern-day words and phrases slipped into the speech of the characters, marring the illusion: after all, though I’m sure Victorians could have said ‘son of a bitch’, I’m pretty sure they had some far more colourful and authentic cusswords that could have been used instead.
But what about the story itself? There are two, really- or perhaps even three. The mystery of the murdered hangman, the mystery of what happened to Sarah’s father- who was framed for murder and has been on the run for years- and what’s happening to the characters as they live their lives. I’m talking romantic affairs, paying the rent, all that juicy good stuff.
When you mix those all together, you get a very crowded story, which sometimes feels like its straining under the weight of all those disparate plot threads. It doesn’t help that the storyline about Sarah’s father has been going for three books- and looks set to continue spread out over future instalments- but it was a shame, as those random tangents sapped momentum from the murder mystery.
That’s not to say I’m griping, though. I really liked the characters: Sarah is a straightforward, pragmatic and determined woman with a very unconventional relationship with policeman Barrett, and watching her interact with Hugh and Mick, her partners in crime, you really feel like they’re all part of a family. The murder mystery was paced out well, too, stringing you along until the final, satisfying twist, in a suitably grimy location. You don’t often get to see what the life of a hangman is like- or a photographer- and for that alone I enjoyed the read.
What’s the upshot?
Twisty and dark as a London alleyway, The Hangman’s Secret is a good old-fashioned slice of fun that definitely merits a read. Just watch your back as you do…
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The Hangman’s Secret is a brutal assault on the senses. Photographer Sarah Bain is no stranger to the London underworld, nor are her associates, Lord Hugh Staunton, and Mick O’Reilly. Sarah works exclusively for powerful newspaper baron Sir Gerald Mariner. She photographs crime scenes, with charming aristocrat Lord Hugh at her side to help her get into crime scenes, while 14-year-old Mick O’Reilly darts into forbidden nooks and crannies.

London in 1890 is a fetid metropolis. The air, the streets, the every-day conditions of most Londoners, is appalling. Everything Sarah touches in her investigations is slimy and filthy. She rushes through “smoky fog” on her way to Warbrick’s pub, The Ropemaker’s Daughter, while “layers of cold grime coats her face, turning her tongue black.

The stomach-gutting gore of The Hangman’s Secret is excruciating. Nothing can prepare Sarah for the sight and smell of the dead hangman, Harry Warbrick, the most infamous executioner in England.

When I step into the dim passage, the smell of blood and ordure hits me like the foul wind from a slaughterhouse. A wave of nausea churns sour bile up from my stomach. I drop my camera case at the threshold and clap my hand over my nose and mouth—too late to keep out the taste of iron and salt, meat and feces … In the middle lies the large, crumpled, bloodstained body of a man dressed in a white shirt, black trousers, and black shoes. Instead of a head, he has only a ragged, gory stump.


I’ve seen the corpses of four of Jack the Ripper’s victims, who were brutally stabbed and mutilated. This is just as terrible. I’m glad it’s so cold in here; otherwise, the smell would be even worse.


Mick, standing near me, says, “The bloke was hanged!” His voice is shrill with horror and excitement.

Warbrick was a garrulous, boastful man, quick to share the secrets of his blood-soaked career with a public hungry for unpleasant details. Was he killed to stop his tongue from wagging? What makes the investigation so difficult is two-fold. First, Sir Gerald Wariner, always looking to increase circulation of his tabloid, the Daily World, pits his journalists against the cops. The public laps it up: “who can solve Warbrick’s murder first?” The contest makes life difficult for Sarah Bain because she loves Police Constable Barrett, a copper assigned to the case. Sarah’s independence—her propensity to charge ahead in the face of personal danger—is a bone of contention between them. Nevertheless, Sarah is eager to solve this new crime, it’s in her nature to be attracted to danger. She admits to herself, “Fear makes me feel alive.” Sarah’s inability to share clues with Barrett causes more stress between them.

Was he killed to stop his tongue from wagging?

Secondly, the Official Secrets Act prevents witnesses to hangings from ever speaking about them. Sarah suspects one of the witnesses to a past Warbrick hanging perpetrated the crime. Could his murder be connected to the most notorious criminal he ever executed—Amelia Carlisle, the “Baby-Butcher,” who murdered hundreds of infants placed in her care? How can Sarah and her intrepid colleagues maneuver around the Official Secrets Act to solve the mystery?

Their inquiries take Sarah and Lord Hugh to notorious Newgate Prison, where Carlisle was hung. The screams and rumbles of the prisoners unnerve them. Not even a chapel service is immune. During the singing of a hymn, “the men clown, singing the next lines in exaggerated falsetto or bass.” A warden shuts down the pandemonium, saying, “It’s back to the cells for you rabble.”

Perhaps the only respite for Sarah and her partners is the ministrations of Fitzmorris, Lord Hugh’s faithful valet, the de facto house manager of their little ménage, who restores their spirits when they feel helpless. Sarah’s vivid imagination often leaves her feeling dispirited.

These ideas are like a chest of serpents that I don’t want to open.


Fitzmorris brings cups of steaming cocoa on a tray. I sip mine, and the sweet, milky chocolate soothes my spirits.

The Hangman’s Secret is a challenging, authentically graphic historical mystery that brings readers into a raw, dog-eat-dog world but one that is not all bleak. Sarah Bain is an intrepid photographer and a dogged investigator but she’s also a loyal friend, an exemplary employee, and a woman who wants to be loved. New York City is not the only city that never sleeps—Sarah Bain’s 1890’s London is rife with secrets and stories to be told.
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I love the Victorian era setting. It may even be my new favorite in historical fiction. The author did an awesome job with her worldbuilding. I was thoroughly transported to this industrial community with progress and dirt commingling everywhere. I can smell the smoke, inhale the dust, got blinded with the flashes of the camera’s bulb, and gagged at the various forms of stench and morbidity. I didn’t know that hanging was such a fascinating topic. I learned so much about it through reading this morbid and fun mystery. 

Needless to say, I was hooked right from the start. This novel surprised me at just how good it is. I was kind of hesitant at first when I realized it’s the third book in a series, but the author’s skillfull writing made sure I’m all caught up. I personally did not like all the exposition—sometimes it can be glaring and repetitive for me, but I do know it can help with other’s reading experience. The plot twists are still so satisfying and totally unexpected. 

I really loved Sarah’s team. They don’t plan ahead with their adventures. I’m always worried something bad would happen and unfortunately I’m often right. I admire their courage and passion despite the risks they are facing. Even though they sometimes use questionable means in their investigative process, their hearts are in the right place. I am now thinking of reading the first two books just to know more about how their unique friendship formed. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves historical crime/mystery fiction. Truly unputdownable!
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I’m frustrated by this book and, indeed, this whole series. The book had promise - a great premise, fairly evocative of time and place, and a truly interesting and exciting mystery.   But the execution, as with the first two books, is just disappointing.  While the mystery (both the individual mystery and the series-spanning mystery about Sarah’s family) is great, the interplay between the characters continues to be tedious. The book and series is full of tiresome people making stupid choices.  Although the book was not especially long, it took me forever to read, mostly because I had to psych myself into picking it back up.  Usually reading is my first choice of activity, but with this book, I was easily distracted by almost anything else. Even when I was enjoying the book - and I really did enjoy the parts specifically about the interesting and well-plotted murder - I was nervous, knowing that eventually I’d get back to the whining and angst of Sarah, Mick and Hugh’s personal lives.  I really can’t recommend this book or series.
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I loved this book at the beginning! It had a great flow and I loved the impressive plot, but as the book went on the plot got a little murky. It seemed like the subplots got a little too tangled at the end. Good book overall though!
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The Hangman's Secret is a well-paced novel, written with great care regarding all details of life in the Victorian London. While reading, you feel as if you are actually on London streets by the end of the 19th century. The plot is interesting and the suspense is there until the end of the novel. The main characters, Sarah Baine and Hugh Staunton, having worked earlier on Jack the Ripper case, this time solve the mystery murder of a publican-cum-executioner. Language is modern, sometimes too modern as for my liking. When you forget the setting of the novel, you might think the story is about modern London. One thing which might be a little discouraging a reader is the fact that Sarah too often refers to the previous case that is unknown if you have never read The Ripper's Shadow, which is the case with me. All in all, a recommendable Victorian mystery.
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You can find this review and all of my others over at 

This book is due to be published on the 18th of January 2019 

Sarah, Hugh and Mick are awakened early one morning from rapping on their windows. They race to get ready, grab their photography equipment and head out for another day. They photograph crime scenes for the Daily World newspaper, and have also been known to help solve a couple of crimes themselves. Once they get to the crime scene at the pub The Hangman's Daughter, they are sickened by what they find. Harry the hangman has been murdered, hung in such a way that his head has come clean off and it seems that there are no clues as to who was responsible. As they investigate further, Sarah and Co. fall down the rabbit hole of secrets upon secrets when they learn that the murder may have to do with a hanging of a woman named Amelia Carlisle, The Baby Butcher, and what transpired at her hanging. Though thanks to the Secrets Act the other people present aren't at liberty to tell anyone what happened that day, letalone reporters for the Daily World. Sarah and Co. must find out what really happened that day in order to solve the mystery of the hangman's botched hanging and time is running out, fast. Who hung the hangman? Did it have anything to do with the baby butcher's hanging? And will Sarah and Barrett's relationship stand the test of this mystery? 

Once again, I didn't realise that this was part of a series when I requested it, though this is book three in said series, and I haven't read the previous two books, it really does not impact the story at all. If anything, I've only missed the relationship evolution between Sarah, Hugh, Mick and Barrett, which I can live with, it honestly didn't impact the story at all or make it hard to understand what was going on. 

I loved the Victorian setting that this book is written in, there's something about stories written in the world of the 1800s that just gives a certain charm to the novel. I found myself many times thinking about how murder mysteries these days often give the characters so many more abilities when it comes to proving the truth. Such as with revelations, when that moment happens where whodunit? is answered. When that pivotal part came about in this story, I found myself almost wishing it was written as a modern mystery because that would mean that the characters could record what was being said on the handy mobile phone that everyone has. Alas, it was not to be, as come on now, we're in the 1800s here, and I must admit, it does add that extra bit of suspense and anxiety, to me anyway, worrying that the culprit will get away, that there won't be sufficient proof to put them away. I believe this falls under one of those charms I was talking about earlier. Rowland has such a way with the written word. I felt completely immersed into the world of London in the 1880's, I felt like I could taste the coal dust on my tongue, that I could see the smog and the pollution that the characters had to walk through. Rowland also has a beautiful way of illustrating what life was like for a woman in that time through the small things. *Gasp* a woman reporter?! A woman asking questions?! OH THE SHOCK HORROR! I love it. 

The characters were well written. Sarah Bain is a fantastic character and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her jaunt to catch a killer. Hugh is so likable, I absolutely love that Rowland has included Hugh in the story as she has, a gay man in 1880's London, and it's no secret, the poor man has had his secret laid bare for all to see and scrutinise. He deals with it swimmingly, and I feel like he's almost my favourite character because of his strength and the way he is portrayed. Mick...I honestly found Mick to be increasingly annoying as the book progressed. I get that things were different back then and that men had to become men at such a young age, but something about him being 14, trying to win the heart of a 19 year old actress, and declaring that he doesn't need to go to school while speaking with poor English, just absolutely grates on me. I just really didn't like him at all. I felt no empathy towards him and just wanted to smack him upside the head and tell him to get to school and learn how to speak properly. Honestly though, that's just me, either you like a character or you don't, and in this instance, I really didn't like him one bit. Barrett was a great character, he loves Sarah so much, he will do anything for her, and while he wishes that she would quit the paper and marry him so he could care for her, he does not push the subject and understands her love for independence. The romance between them was tastefully done and didn't overshadow the main plot of the story at all. It was a lovely addition. Sir Gerald's character was such a mean, ask no questions man but I found myself strangely liking him. 

The mystery itself was amazing!! I honestly had NO IDEA whodunit, none whatsoever. I had my inklings and suspects, as there is good reason for a few characters to have murdered the hangman, not until the characters found out did it all become glaringly clear. The way the mystery was written was fantastic, the twists and turns were done phenomenally, I loved the sub-mystery of Sarah's Father as well as the inclusion of the baby butcher's mystery. It was all so wonderful and I felt myself becoming elated along with the characters when they discovered something new, another step towards finding out what had happened. 

all in all this was a wonderful mystery and was a seriously satisfying read. I'm interested to read the previous two books in this series and see how they stack up.
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The Hangman’s Secret by Laura Joh Rowland 
“From award-winning author Laura Joh Rowland, a story about the darkness that lurks within and the deadly secrets that beg to be revealed.
Intrepid photographer Sarah Bain and her motley crew of friends are back to hunt criminals in the dark, 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 because he was England’s top hangman and he’s met 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. 
This book is the third in the Victorian Mysteries series but can certainly be read as a standalone. It is told from the perspective of our protagonist, Sarah Bain. A scrappy and independent gal, which was uncommon in such times. I really liked her character.
I must say I found this to be an intriguing premise for a novel. The author’s writing style has quality. She is efficient at providing background information that helps readers that haven’t read the first two books, to understand what is going on. The characters play well off one another and each has their individual roles in the story. Each also has their own troubles, which enliven and enrich the tale.
The characters were fascinating and likeable. An unlikely group of friends who are amateur sleuths, each having their own backstories that add more to the tale. There is suspense, mystery, romance-all set in 18990s London. Each of the characters add to the story and make it an enjoyable read. It is a page turner that had me guessing till the very end, and what an ending it was! I had no clue who the killer was, although I had suspicions throughout the story. There are many to be suspicious of. SO many suspects., but each is ruled out. Just as Sarah gets closer to solving the mystery, she finds herself in more imminent danger.
The book was paced quite well. A steady stream of action and introduction of characters helped the narrative to flow easily. This was an enjoyable read. An intense mystery, though it was a light read for me. It was engaging and entertaining. I plan to read the first two in the series so that I can get to know the characters better since they are all so interesting.
The only criticism I have, is the verbalizations between the characters didn’t seem to fit well given the time period. The conversations and verbiage used seemed more modern. This, I feel, was an oversight that could not be ignored given the fact that otherwise, everything seemed so authentic. SO, I am giving it a 4/5 stars. 
All in all, it is a book that I enjoyed and enough so that I will surely read more of her work. I would also recommend this book despite my one misgiving. 
I was given this book by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
This review, or portions thereof, will be posted (when able) on Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, Kobo, IG, FB, Pinterest, Litsy, and my own blog.
Unfortunately, I am unable to provide links to all sites as I am using my phone.
On various sites I am:
Barnes & Noble~ Karyl-Ahn-white_7
Litsy~ Karylahn or Karyl White
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3.5 stars
I am fascinated by the Victorian Era, and this series has been on my wish list since it began so I jumped at the chance to read this third installment, THE HANGMAN’S SECRET.  With its plucky protagonist, heaps of atmosphere, and an intriguing mystery, the book did not disappoint.

Sarah, a professional photographer, and her friends Lord Hugh Stanton and Mick O’Reilly have formed an investigative team of sorts, having had success with prior cases (books one and two).  They are hired by Gerald Mariner to take photos of crime scenes for his newspaper.  When they are called to the particularly grisly scene of pub owner and hangman Harry Warbrick’s death, a competition soon erupts between the investigators and the police to see who can solve the case first.  This is particularly hard for Sarah as her love interest is part of the police force.  The investigation leads to a cover up at the prison involving the hanging of notorious baby killer Amelia Carlisle.  Time is against them as more people connected to the hanging die.

I enjoyed every twisty turn in THE HANGMAN’S SECRET.  The pace is a bit slow in the beginning but quickly picks up, as does the tension in the tale.  Rowland successfully weaves historical figures and places into the story, giving it some gravitas.  The characters are a little outlandish, but here is where the fun lies.  They are so eccentric, one cannot help but root for them.  In addition to the main murder mystery, there is an ongoing subplot about Sarah’s father and her romance with Constable Barrett that fills out the book. 

THE HANGMAN’S SECRET is darker than a traditional cozy mystery, but I think any mystery reader, especially fans of historical mysteries, will enjoy time spent with Sarah and crew.

I received a copy of this title from Crooked Lane Books through NetGalley and voluntarily shared my thoughts here.
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An early morning knock on the door summons photographer Sarah Bain and her associates, Lord Hugh Staunton and former street urchin, Mick O'Reilly to yet another crime scene. The three had formed a detective agency based on the success of their first two investigations. However, their employment by Sir Gerald Mariner at the London Daily World has kept them busy. This crime scene is particularly gruesome. The most well-known hangman in England, Harry Warbrick, has been hanged in his pub and in the process, decapitated. The police are ready to declare it a suicide, but our detectives think it has to be murder, and Sir Gerald agrees. Always on the lookout to increase the circulation of his tabloid, Sir Gerald kicks off a contest between the Daily World and the police. The competition can only cause conflict with Sarah's love interest, PC Barrett...again. It appears that the murder is connected to the recent hanging of a notorious criminal; Amelia Carlisle, who murdered many infants placed in her care. No one who witnessed the hanging will talk about it, pleading the Official Secrets Act.

Once again, Laura Joh Rowland takes us into the seamier side of Victorian London, among the highest and lowest members of society. There are a plethora of characters, both old and new, but Rowland characterizes them all so well, I was able to keep them all sorted. Underpinning the main storyline is Sarah's search for her missing father, who may have murdered a child, and her fraught relationship with PC Barrett. In my opinion, the romantic link takes up too much time in The Hangman's Secret and detracts somewhat. The secrets she is forever keeping from Barrett don't augur well for the future, even with a possible resolution in the book. I also found the vocabulary used not in keeping with the time and place and the general tone a little too modern. For example, I have never heard the word "candy" used by my British friends and relations. They all use "sweet." Those problems do not detract from the excellence of the plotting and characterization, however.

Thanks to NetGalley and Crooked Lane for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.
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3,5 Stars

All in all, I enjoyed the book. Would I pick up other novels in this series? I don't think I'd seek them out, but I'd definitely pick them up for a lighter read. :)

Fans of historical mysteries set in the Victorian period should give it a try. 

I'd like to thank to the publisher for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review
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