The Hangman's Secret

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 25 Dec 2018

Member Reviews

I don't know how I have let this author and this series slip by me.  This was an awesome mystery novel.  Even through it was the third book in the series, I didn't feel like I was in the dark about what was going on.  The author does a wonderful job of not only making it part of a series but also a book that can stand on it's own.  The feeling I get from this series is you can read them out of order and not be confused.  The characters are well developed and very interesting, the story line within the story mixes nicely.  The use of historical events that took place during the Victorian era is a nice touch,  This was a well written and had the hard to put down read to it.  A true great read. Anyone that loves a good, mystery, with action and human elements and feelings should read this series and this book.
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Sarah is really a amazing woman. Working as a photographer, being amazing at it, and then being amazing at solving mysteries and crimes. Even better than her love, that works in the police department.

When the famous hangman is found dead, just like he works, the case gets big. And now she and her crew are in the mix of it all. Can she solve the mystery without endangering herself and her crew, and without losing Barret?

Who hanged the hangman?

With amazing writing, and a very nice mystery, Laura Joh Rowland has us page turning until we find out the culprit! With scenes that really had me not breathing, it was such a amazing book that I cannot not recommend for the mystery lovers!
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In London, the year is 1890 & photographer Sarah Bain & her companions are summoned to photograph the death of a man who used to be a "Hangman" for the city. In this Victorian mystery, we are reminded at how little woman are regarded as human beings with lawful rights by the opposite sex. A good reminder that women have come a very long way in our fight against male domination/suppression of our equal rights. I have always been fascinated by history especially English mysteries. This book kept my attention, has an excellent main character, some lovable witty co-workers & devious characters that I hope to meet in some of the other books in the Laura Joh Rowland's "Victorian Mystery Series." Well done and well worth reading.
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In this, the third installment of the Victorian Series, we are again reunited with Sarah Bain and her cohorts Lord Hugh and sometime Street urchin Mick who are now crime reporters for the London newspaper the Daily World. This time, they are sent to a crime scene involving the “Hangman on London”. At first it appears that the hangman has hung himself but upon further inspection, he was definitely murdered. As the trio digs deeper, they are fac d with lies, deception and danger. Can the trio find the murderer before they become the next victims and find out what Secret is so personal that it was worth killing for?  Mixed throughout the story are glimpses into the personal lives of each of the characters and the troubles they each face individually. 

The book is well written and can be read as a stand alone even if you haven’t read the previous two books in the series. Laura Joy Rowland writes a twisted tale that will keep you guessing until close to the very end.

I enjoyed the book but I am not sure I will read anymore in the series. Laura Joh Rowland is a very talented writer and if you enjoy historical mysteries then you will enjoy this book.
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I've read the previous book in this series, A Mortal Likeness, and think I had the same issues with this one as I did with that one - I'm not a great fan of Sarah, and so I found it easy not to read. I don't dislike Sarah, I just like the other characters a bit more than her.

In this book, Sarah, Hugh and Mick investigate the murder of one of the most renowned hangmen in London - who would have an issue with him, and why? Along with that, Sir Gerald, their employer, has decided that he will be running a contest that will see the Daily Globe beat the police in discovering the murderer, so this puts more pressure on Sarah and her relationship with Barratt, her policeman paramour.

Complicating matters is the fact that Hugh is in a relationship with Sir Gerald's son, Tristan, a reverend, and Mick is in love with Catherine, the actress, who, we discover is in another relationship with a gentleman who turns out to be a suspect. So, all these relationships get sorely tested during this investigation, as they go from Newgate Prison, to the newspaper, to Leeds and Ely. Along with this investigation, Sarah and her half-sister Sally are still looking for their father.

As I said, I found it easy to put down for a couple of days before picking it back up again and carrying on. It was a relatively steady read and I do enjoy the Victorian era, although the dialogue sometimes felt a bit too modern, and Americanisms ruined the Englishness of it - a 'sidewalk' is a pavement in the UK, and 'candy' is sweets. These are the little things that can affect the reader's enjoyment of the book.

But overall, I enjoyed it enough to continue the series should there be another one. And I'd like to go back to the first one because there are a lot of references to it in this book that I didn't get.
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I can never say it enough: I LOVE Victorian Mysteries! I don’t read them as much as I would like to and I really need to work on that. It’s a flaw. Don’t judge me.

The Hangman’s Secret just pulled me right in. There is nothing I love more than a true historical setting, an excellent murder mystery and a group of people who have no business getting in the middle of an investigation doing just that. This book hit all those points and I couldn’t get enough! Special mention goes to the “Baby Butcher”. That nod to history surprised and thrilled me. I am such a sucker for books that incorporate real life monsters into their stories, even if there are small detail changes like names. I find it really adds something a little extra to the story and shows the amount of research the author has put into the book. Don’t ever stop doing that. I love it!

I think the pacing was excellent and even though I haven’t read the previous books in this series (oh, but I will!) I didn’t feel that I was missing too much. I’m sure I would have enjoyed getting more background on Sarah, Mick, Hugh and their previous “cases” but for the purposes of this book on its own, I didn’t feel that it was needed. 

Honestly, I don’t think there is anything that I didn’t enjoy about book except maybe Barrett….him I’m not a big fan of but that’s just a personal opinion of the character. The flow of the story worked great for me. I was immediately engrossed in the mystery and the seedy Jack the Ripper setting (another great historical nod, by the way. Seriously cannot get enough of them!) pulled it all together. The writing style was fantastic and made for such an enjoyable read. 

This book is the third in Rowland’s Victorian Mystery series and the first book I have read by the author but I will be picking her up again. There is no way, after reading this book, that I will not be grabbing the earlier books in this series and really getting to know this unique crime solving team. 

I expect Laura Joh Rowland will become an easy auto-buy author for me from now on.

Thank you to NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this book to read and provide my own opinion.
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So, this book turned out to the be the third in a series – I wonder if I just didn’t read the page on NetGalley properly or it didn’t actually state it, I don’t know. Luckily, it’s not necessary to have read the other two novels to make sense of this one. There is a lot of explanation and exposition whenever we encounter characters we already know, and a short summary of events in previous novels that have shaped these relationships. I do think it’s probably a more entertaining experience to read the books in order, as I did feel a little sad I hadn’t read the stories first-hand, so to speak.

This is an historical mystery novel following a group of amateur detectives who – because of their backing from an influential and wealthy newspaper owner – get embroiled in a one-sided competition with the police to see who can solve the murder of the hangman first. This leads them to Newgate prison and other local haunts, as well as further out of London as they try and figure out what secret is being protected around the hanging of a serial killer. Looking back at the synopsis I think it’s way too elaborate – as it already reveals a lot of the plot points that occur further in the story (luckily I didn’t remember it that clearly!)

I liked our – to me – random group of characters, though I probably would be a lot more attached to them and their personal stories had I read the first two books, as we do start off with an already formed dynamic. There is a wide range of supporters and suspects thrown in there as well. It was quite nice to have our main girl Sarah who pursues some unfeminine pursuits for the era, but is not completely averse to everything to do with a mainstream female’s life, if that makes sense. So she has her own photography studio, works as a photographer for the newspaper, and solves murders, but then also has a relationship which may be heading towards marriage. This healthy combination was very refreshing.

The mystery was alright, nothing too intricate, but enjoyable. I did feel the resolution was a bit too convenient, with handy confessions. Some reasoning was not only based on emotions but then also was proven right, which irked me a bit. The writing was very easygoing. The dialogue was perhaps a bit too modern for the era it was set in, but it did make for a very comfortable reading experience, so I didn’t mind as much myself, but it may be something that takes someone else out of the story.

All in all I enjoyed this book, it was a very fast read. I probably won’t read the earlier books, but mainly because I’ve been spoiled for some of the story line with the recaps in this book. I will however probably read any further books featuring this cast.
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I received an ARC of this from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This was the first book that I've read in this series and it was really good. It gave enough of a background that I didn't feel like I missed out by not reading the previous books but I'll probably go back and read them anyways. This was a very well done whodunnit that kept me guessing for most of the novel. The cast of characters are fantastic and  I like their back stories. Each one of them is dealing with their own personal being gay in 19th century England, another trying to weave through what is socially acceptable for a woman both as work and when dating, and lastly, the teenager with his first unattainable crush.  There's lots of action, close calls, and serious detective work.

I enjoyed it and I'll continue to keep this author on my radar. There was obviously a ton of research that went into this novel and it made the story that much better.
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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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