A Hangman for Ghosts Blog Tour: Author Interview

Bookworms! I have an author interview for you today! I was able to interview the author of A Hangman for Ghosts, Andrei Baltakmens. Check out the synopsis for this historical fiction mystery and then see what the author has to say about his book and his inspirations. If you love a good mystery and historical fiction is your jam, this is might be the next book you want to add to your TBR.

02_A Hangman for Ghosts


Publication Date: July 1, 2018
Top Five Books
Paperback & eBook; 288 Pages

Genre: Historical Mystery


“We are transported. We are consigned to the ends of the Earth. And we are therefore as good as dead to the realm and its judges. There can be no hope of reprieve…”

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 (The Raven’s Seal, 2012), 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

“With rich historical details that evoke Australia’s early colonial days, this is a wonderful, traditional novel.…Folding in vivid details, bright characters, and compelling dialogue, the story is a page-turner, a savory treat to be devoured.” – Foreward Reviews


Author Interview

BR: What got you started writing?

AB: I had a strong impulse to write since my teens. I even owned a manual typewriter, and in my last year of high school I started to thrash out a rather derivative fantasy novel. As a graduate student, I began to write in earnest, and the writer-in-residence at the University of Canterbury read my first full manuscript and was very supportive. That led to my first publication in New Zealand, and I’ve persisted with writing almost every day since then.

BR: Is there any part of your writing process that you think is unique?

AB: I think every writer has some unique practice or part of their craft, but I can’t think what mine might be, specifically. I’m a very visual writer, in the sense that I have to visualize the scene quite precisely before I set it down in words.

BR: What was the idea that sparked A Hangman for Ghosts?

AB: My wife and I were visiting Montreal, and we went to the very fine museum and historic site, Château Ramezay. There was an exhibit there which mentioned that many executioners had themselves been convicts and gained reprieve from their crimes by taking up the role of hangman or flogger. I was intrigued by what sort of character could be developed out of this dual situation as convict and enforcer of the law in a colonial context.

BR: What character do you connect with most and why?

AB: Inevitably, I see things very strongly from the perspective of the protagonist, the convict hangman Gabriel Carver. But because of his cruel occupation, Carver was also something of an enigma, even to me. That’s why I introduced Antonia Fitchett, the magistrate’s wife. In many ways, her position in the colony is extremely difficult: she is expected to represent all the virtues and gentility of the home country and her husband’s position as magistrate, while struggling with the day-to-day necessities and brutalities of the penal colony. In many ways, she represents the moral center of gravity of the story.

BR: What about historical fiction has drawn you to it?

AB: I think historical fiction can provide a wonderful lens through which to consider human experience. The historical setting provides a distance that draws us out of the current situation, but also gives a means to focus on questions and concerns that affect us deeply at any time.

BR: What books inspired you to become a writer?

AB: Dickens, and Our Mutual Friend in particular, inspired my love of mystery as a means to motivate and orient a narrative. Ursula Le Guin, in The Language of the Night, made the point that writers write — we grow in our craft only by constantly practicing our craft.

BR: What scene from your book was your favorite to write?

AB: Carver was such a dark and difficult figure to conceive of that I struggled with his story until I began to write the first scene set on the English prison hulks, as Carver begins to think back on what brought him to Sydney. Although technically very difficult, these scenes transformed and lifted the whole story.

BR: What are you reading right now?

AB: Orsinian Tales, historical fictions from an imaginary country, by Ursula Le Guin.

BR: What would you like readers to take away from your book?

AB: In the first case, I hope that A Hangman for Ghosts is an entertaining and intriguing read. But the thematic point that came out of the character in the first place is the conflict between the individual and the system, the clash between authority and freedom, and the struggle between the narrow application of the law and compassion and decency. I hope that readers will be sensitive to these problems, even while they’re drawn in to the mystery.

About the Author

03_Andrei BaltakmensAndrei Baltakmens was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, of Latvian descent. He has a Ph.D. in English literature, focused on Charles Dickens and Victorian urban mysteries.

His first novel, The Battleship Regal, was published in New Zealand in 1996. His short fiction has appeared in various literary journals, and his first historical mystery, The Raven’s Seal, was published in 2012.

Since 2004, he has lived in Ithaca, New York and Brisbane, Australia, where he recently completed a doctorate in Creative Writing at The University of Queensland. He now lives in Palo Alto, California, with his wife and son, and works for Stanford University as an instructional designer.

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