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Thursday 17 December 2015

‘The Testimony of the Hanged Man’ by Ann Granger

Published by Headline,
3 July 2015.
ISBN: 978 1 4722 04509 (PB)

This is the fifth title in the author’s Victorian-set series featuring Inspector Ben Ross of the newly-formed detective squad of the Metropolitan Police at Scotland Yard and his wife Lizzie. It begins in 1868 when Ben visits convicted murderer John Mills who is due to be hanged for murder next day and whom Ben had helped to bring to justice. Mills is facing his fate with grim equanimity but before he dies there is something he wishes to tell Ben. Sixteen years before when caught in a sudden downpour while riding across Putney Heath (Putney then being a village on the outskirts of London, not the present-day suburb) he had seen through the window of an isolated house a handsome young woman deliberately smothering an old man sleeping in an armchair in front of a fire. Not wishing to be involved in such a situation he told no-one of the incident; now, however, he wishes to unburden himself before he dies. Ross feels duty-bound to report this to the prison governor who appears unimpressed by the story but subsequently reports it to the Home Secretary who orders no further action. Meanwhile Ben has stopped on his way home to give some money to a young woman with a child who calls herself Jane Stephens and has clearly run away from home. She is in fact Jane Canning and when her husband Hubert appears at the Yard demanding that she be found Ben is ordered to do so, albeit reluctantly since Canning is unpleasant and overbearing and clearly tyrannical towards his wife. But Jane seems to have disappeared. Meanwhile Lizzie, intrigued by Mills’s story decides to investigate on her own account aided by Bessie, the maid-of-all-work, and their old friend cabdriver Wally Slater. They establish the name of the dead man – Isaiah Sheldon – and identify the house – Fox House on Putney Heath – and that on his death his considerable fortune went to his niece Amelia Sheldon then a young woman who was living with him and that subsequently she dismissed all the servants save one. She is still living at Fox House and is now married to fortune-hunter Charles Lamont. This is enough to rouse Ben’s interest, particularly when another murder occurs.

Ann Granger never fails to deliver a story in all four of her series which is both enthralling and a pleasure to read. The Testimony of the Hanged Man is one such, although darker in tone than most of her others because of the opening and the inevitability of Mills’s fate but that is true to the time in which it is set. The characters are warm and lively and convincing and the research, although never intrusive, is impeccable both as regards to Putney of the 1860s and the then relevant law, for instance as to dying declarations and the custody of children when couples separate.
Reviewer: Radmila May
Ann Granger has worked in British embassies around the world. She met her husband, who was also working for the British Embassy, in Prague, and together they received postings to places as far apart as Munich and Lusaka. She is the author of the Mitchell and Markby Mysteries and the Lizzie Martin mystery series. She and her husband are now permanently based in Bicester, near Oxford.

Radmila May was born in the US but has lived in the UK ever since apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and has been working for them off and on ever since. For the last few years she has been one of three editors working on a new edition of a practitioners' text book on Criminal Evidence by her late husband, publication of which has been held up for a variety of reasons but hopefully will be published by the end of 2015. She also has an interest in archaeology in which subject she has a Diploma.

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