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on June 22, 2012 :
This rivetting story of a smuggler's life in 18th-century southern England shows not only how widespread the practice was, but that the likes of Gabriel Tomkins were just as capable of riding with law enforcers as they were with law breakers. Recalling his life as he faces the gallows in Bedford for robbing the Chester Mail, Tomkins seems like an engaging character telling his tales in a pub. Barker's cleverness here is to use surviving documents, to which Tomkins would not have had access, to reinforce his story. Some of the rogue's exploits are breathtakingly daring, and in a life of great mobility in which fortunes can change on a moment, he rode with both the Mayfield Men and the gratuously violent Hawkhurst Seacocks, as well as the law-enforcing Sherrif of Sussex, not to mention several years spent in penal servitude on tobacco plantations in America. It's a wonder he lasted so long. Tightly written, the book gallops along, and should appeal to anybody interested in mayhem and mishchief-making from the past.
(reviewed 16 days after purchase)