GALLOWS COURT (Poisoned Pen, paper, $15.99) seems awfully bloodthirsty for a traditionally designed mystery set in foggy old London in 1930. Rachel Savernake, the daughter of a dearly departed “hanging judge,” is determined to carry on the family legacy. “The judge is dead,” she declares, “but I inherited a taste for melodrama.” So when a woman’s body is discovered in Covent Garden but her head turns up elsewhere — and in a trunk — the atrocity prompts Rachel to exercise her sleuthing skills. Little does she know, or care, that the author’s designated detective is Jacob Flint, an eager-beaver reporter for a not entirely respectable newspaper.
Rachel and Jacob dance around each other, but theirs is not a romantic relationship. Fans of clean-cut heroes will be rooting for Jacob, although some of us would rather see devilish Rachel clean his clock. Either that or commit a clever, more refined murder of her own.