The Fatal Tree
February 23rd 2017 | Sceptre | Hardbacks
Photo: Crispin Hughes
Jake Arnott is back with a triumphant new novel, The Fatal Tree. In a surprising move away from his usual setting, he has turned to the 18th century, transporting the reader to the pungent streets of 1720s London. For the first time, the centre of his tale is a woman: Elizabeth Lyon, aka Edgworth Bess, lover and partner in crime of the notorious jail-breaker, Jack Sheppard, who publicly blamed her for leading him astray. A shameless, wounding lie, according to Bess’s version of events, which she dictates from the condemned cell at Newgate to a Grub Street writer; a man who turns out to have his own nefarious story to tell.
Drawing on the true story of the most famous criminal couple of their age and the corrupt ‘thief-taker general’ whom they challenged, Arnott masterfully blends fact and fiction in this riveting tale of crime and rough justice, love and treachery. Steeped in the street slang of the era, The Fatal Tree vividly conjures up London’s murky underworld, its brothels, illicit dens and molly-houses. And it brings alive a period that seems uncannily familiar, with its financial crash, a widening gap between rich and poor, law enforcers feathering their own nests and a proliferation of coffee houses, where news spread almost as quickly as on the internet.
This is a novel that makes Georgian London tangible – and fascinating; a tour de force by one of Britain’s most inventive and exciting novelists.