Gabriel Carver, the convict hangman of Sydney Prison, knows that none of his kind may depart Australia’s penal colony without the system’s leave. Then three people are murdered, seemingly to protect the “Rats’ Line,” an illicit path to freedom that exists only in the fevered imaginations of transported felons. But why kill to protect something that doesn’t exist?
When an innocent woman from Carver’s past is charged with one of the murders and faces execution at his hands, she threatens to reveal an incriminating secret of his own unless he helps her. So Carver must try to unmask the killer among the convicts, soldiers, sailors, and fallen women roaming 1829 Sydney. If he can find the murderer, he may discover who is defying the system under its very nose. His search will take him back to the scene of his ruin—to London and a past he can never remake nor ever escape, not even at the edge of the world.
“Baltakmens, echoing the voices of 19th-century masters like Conrad and Melville, combines adventure and mystery in a high-stakes tale of class, morality, and justice.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Gabriel Carver is a great character, and Baltakmens’ style is intelligent and evocative.” —Historical Novels Review
“The story is a page-turner, a savory treat to be devoured.” —Foreword Reviews
From Andrei Baltakmens, author of The Raven’s Seal.
Andrei Baltakmens was born and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand. He holds doctorates in English literature and creative writing, and is the author of numerous short stories and three novels, including the historical mystery The Raven’s Seal (2012). He has lived in Ithaca, New York; Brisbane, Australia; and now makes his home in Palo Alto, California, with his wife and son.
Two years later, Michael marries naïve young Grace Moore. Although initially overjoyed at the union, Grace quickly realizes that her husband is more interested in her fortune than her company. Lonely and desperate for companionship, she turns to her new cook to help mend her ailing marriage. But Mary Jebb, shipwrecked, tortured, and recently hired, has different plans for the unsuspecting owners of Delafosse Hall.
A Taste for Nightshade is a thrilling historical novel that combines recipes, mystery and a dark struggle between two desperate women, sure to appeal to fans of Sarah Waters and Carolly Erickson.
The Commandant, with an introduction by Carmen Callil, is an unforgettable tale of power, duty and humanity.
'Quietly astonishing: enthrals, entertains and gratifies on every level.' Helen Garner
Jessica Anderson was born in Gayndah, Queensland, in 1916. Anderson wrote stories and adapted novels for radio before she published her first novel, An Ordinary Lunacy, in 1963. In 1978, she won the Miles Franklin Literary Award for Tirra Lirra by the River, and again in 1980 for The Impersonators, which also won the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction. In 1987 her story collection, Stories from the Warm Zone, won the Age Book of the Year award.
Carmen Callil founded Virago Press in 1972 and later became managing director of Chatto & Windus and the Hogarth Press. Since 1995 she has worked as a writer and critic. She is the author of Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family and Fatherland, and co-author, with Colm Toibin, of The Modern Library: The 200 Best Novels in English since 1950.
The year is 1928. Sabir – petty criminal, drifter, war veteran – is on a prison ship bound for a notorious penal colony in the French tropics. Soon after his arrival in the bagne, as it's known, Sabir is shipped out to a work camp deep in the South American jungle but quickly comes to the realisation that his old life is dead, and return to France an impossibility. Yet, if he's to survive at all, he must escape the brutality of the bagne. Posing as a professional gardener, Sabir wins the confidence and protection of the camp's naïve, idealistic Commandant. With a group of like-minded convicts – including the secretive, enigmatic Edouard, a comrade from the trenches of WW1 – he soon launches his escape bid, across the seas in a stolen boat. Bad weather forces the men ashore, condemning them to a dismal, hallucinatory tramp through the jungle. As hunger and rivalry tear the group apart, Sabir understands he has scant chance of escaping into another life.
In Part Two, Manne – deserter, itinerant exile – comes to the Colony in search of his deported friend, the same Edouard from Part One. With a false identity and cover story, Manne installs himself as a guest at the Commandant's house. There, he falls into an affair with his host's wife. Meanwhile, the Commandant is slowly unravelling, growing ever more suspicious of who Manne is and what he's doing in the Colony. Manne ends up trapped like everyone else in the bagne, and realises that he too must escape. The novel's two plot threads begin to merge – boundaries between dream and reality blur, bringing a surreal tinge to the dramatic climax.
Both a page-turning adventure story, and a bold novel of ideas, Colony takes an historical background familiar to readers of Henri Charrière's ‘Papillon’, and twists it into a metaphysical journey. Brilliantly evoking an atmosphere of colonial decline in the tropics, the novel explores the shifting natures of identity, memory and reality.
A young gentleman of means but of meaningless pursuits, Grainger is cast into the notorious Bellstrom Gaol, where he must quickly learn to survive in the filthy, ramshackle prison. The “Bells”—where debtors, gaolers, whores, thieves, and murderers all mix freely and where every privilege comes at a price—will be the young man’s home for the rest of his life unless he can prove his innocence.
But his friends, the journalist William Quillby and Cassie Redruth, the poor young girl who owes Grainger a debt of gratitude, refuse to abandon him. Before they can win his freedom, however, they must decode the meaning behind the crude wax seal that inspires terror in those who know its portent and contend with forces both inside and outside the prison determined to keep Grainger behind bars.
Set against the urban backdrop of late 18th-century England, The Raven’s Seal unravels a tale of corruption, betrayal, murder, and—ultimately—redemption and love.
Praise for The Raven’s Seal:
“Baltakmens captures the flavor and scope of classic British fiction.” —Kirkus Reviews
“This atmospheric, character-driven, and plot-twisty bildungsroman is a worthy paean to Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.” —Booklist
“Baltakmens gives readers of The Raven’s Seal all of the history and the mystery his subtitle promises. The mood, color, details, and dialogue come across as very authentic . . . [his] characters would not be out of place in a work of DeFoe or Thackeray. In fact, there is much of the latter’s Barry Lyndon here, with its plots and duels and confidence games, as well as deft touches of the former’s Moll Flanders, with its bawdy wenches, prison intrigues, and period squalor.” —ForeWord
“The author’s exquisite prose rushes along full of surprises, shadows, betrayal, and squalid situations where the high-born and criminals intermix. A superb mystery with vibrant characters.” —Historical Novels Review