Paperbacks: Scapegallows, by Carol Birch

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The Independent Culture

Admirers of Birch's sharp and sensitive novels will expect a cliché-free journey to the past when she turns to Suffolk smuggling, 200 years ago.

So it proves, as heroine Margaret Catchpole delivers the grind of below-stairs poverty, the horror of public execution and the torments of jail as well as adventure at sea. She dodges the noose but not transportation; Birch makes her a truly compelling witness to an era of grime, stink – and fear.