cover image The Sign of the Gallows

The Sign of the Gallows

Susanna Calkins. Severn, $28.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8956-0

Set in 1667 London, Agatha finalist Calkins’s diverting fifth Lucy Campion mystery (after 2016’s A Death Along the River Fleet) finds Lucy, a servant turned printer’s apprentice, horrified to discover a dead man hanging from a tree at a crossroads. Whether the man was murdered or committed suicide piques Lucy’s curiosity, as does the strange behavior of two rough men she encounters near the tree. Constable Duncan and Adam Hargrave, a magistrate’s son, join Lucy in a search for answers after she learns that a murder in a tavern has set in motion a relentless quest for justice. The romantic triangle that develops with Duncan and Hargrave leads to exchanges that are more awkward than pulse-racing. Far more enticing is the role of a series of messages requiring a cipher to comprehend. Calkins makes fine use of advances in mathematics and cryptography of this period, while also drawing in the chaos of the Great Fire and plague in London as agents of change in society. For anyone interested in 17th-century England, this mystery is a treat. Agent: David Hale Smith, InkWell Management. (Feb.)