Left Isis
Right Isis

June 19th, 2024

My very special guest for June is the incomparable Laura Joh Rowland, bestselling author of historical mystery novels. Her research is impeccable, as is her world-building. She can make the reader believe like few other authors I know. And believe me, the thriller aspect of her work is quite thrilling indeed! Her newest series stars Miss Sarah Bain, a photographer in Victorian London. Laura’s previous series, set in medieval Japan and featuring samurai detective Sano Ichiro, has been published in 21 countries and nominated for the Anthony Award and the Hammett Prize, won RT Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Award, and been included in The Wall Street Journal’s list of the five best historical mystery novels. Laura has also written a fabulous historical suspense series about Charlotte Bronte. She is a former aerospace scientist, a painter, and a cartoonist, holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Michigan. She lives in New York City.

Of Murder and Hangmen
Laura Joh Rowland

My path to becoming a mystery novelist was long and roundabout. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an artist. A class on writing and illustrating children’s picture books, plus a love of crime fiction, sidetracked me. I ended up the published author of 27 mystery novels. But I never lost my love of art, so I combine writing and drawing whenever I can.

In Book 3 of my Victorian mystery series, The Hangman’s Secret, photographer Sarah Bain and her friends Mick O’Reilly and Lord Hugh Staunton solve the murder of a hangman who executed some of Britain’s most notorious criminals. My research into real-life British hangmen was so fascinating that I was inspired to draw them. Here’s my portrait of William Calcraft. He was a hangman from 1829 – 1874. Executions were public until 1868, and hanging was a hit-or-miss affair rather than a science. Many of the 400-plus criminals he hanged slowly strangled to death instead of dying quickly from a broken neck. Mr. Calcraft climbed on their shoulders or yanked on their legs to speed up the process. The huge crowds of spectators went wild.

Meet James Berry. He executed Robert Goodale, who was convicted of murdering his wife in 1885. Mr. Berry miscalculated the length of the rope he used to hang Mr. Goodale. The rope was too long, and the force of the downward drop was so great that Mr. Goodale was decapitated. This was an extreme example of a “botched” hanging.

Last but not least is Albert Pierrepoint, the most prolific of the 20th century hangmen. He hanged an estimated 434 criminals during his years of service (1932 – 1956). After World War II, he went to Germany and hanged prisoners convicted of war crimes. He holds the record for the quickest hanging—7 seconds. When he wasn’t hanging criminals, he ran a pub named Help the Poor Struggler. Bottoms up!


Check out Laura’s website at https://www.laurajohrowland.com

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