“Longlisted for the John Creasey Dagger Award for best debut crime novel of 2014.
London, 1727 – and Tom Hawkins is about to fall from his heaven of card games, brothels and coffee-houses into the hell of a debtors’ prison.
The Marshalsea is a savage world of its own, with simple rules: those with family or friends who can lend them a little money may survive in relative comfort. Those with none will starve in squalor and disease. And those who try to escape will suffer a gruesome fate at the hands of the gaol’s rutheless governor and his cronies.
The trouble is, Tom Hawkins has never been good at following rules – even simple ones. And the recent grisly murder of a debtor, Captain Roberts, has brought further terror to the gaol. While the Captain’s beautiful widow cries for justice, the finger of suspicion points only one way: to the sly, enigmatic figure of Samuel Fleet.
Some call Fleet a devil, a man to avoid at all costs. But Tom Hawkins is sharing his cell. Soon, Tom’s choice is clear: get to the truth of the murder – or be the next to die.
A twisting mystery, a dazzling evocation of early 18th Century London, THE DEVIL IN THE MARSHALSEA is a thrilling debut novel full of intrigue and suspense.”
4 of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion.
Tom Hawkins is a Gentleman without purpose. He drifts through life, spending his money on gambling and brothels with little thought for the future. Soon his actions catch up with him and he finds himself owing his landlord £20, which he cannot pay. After winning £10 at cards he is happy in the belief that this will hold off his landlord until he can win the rest. That same night however the money is lost again, this time in a different way and Tom finds himself thrown in the Marshalsea; the dreaded debtors prison. He winds up sharing a room with Sam Fleet, a dangerous individual suspected of murdering his room mate some months previously.
Soon Tom is drawn into the unique way of the Marshalsea and sets out to find out the murderer, and hopefully save himself in the process.
I love historical fiction. It transports us to a different time and I soon find myself immersed in that strange other world. I am also fascinated with the Marshalsea, the debtors prison where prisoners had to pay rent, buy their own food and pay for servants – if they were lucky enough to live on the Master’s side. The fact that family could live with the debtor but be free to come and go, as were some of the prisoners, and that some of the more trusted inmates were allowed to be turnkeys, is a wonderful draw. I therefore loved that this story was set here.
Antonia Hodgson has obviously put in a lot of research into London and the Marshalsea of the time. I could imagine the stench and grime of the city and the prison and almost feel how it must have been in the Marshalsea, and how traumatic an experience it must have been for those poor souls locked in the common side where conditions were almost unimaginably terrible.
Tom Hawkins is, at least at the beginning, not a very likeable character. He is selfish and self serving, thinking only of having fun, no matter the cost. However he does start to develop as a character and despite some of the things that happen to him in prison, or indeed because of them, he does start to become a better person. He’s not a completely changed character however and the rakishness still shines through to the very end.
The murder mystery itself is engaging and despite me guessing the whodunit before the reveal it kept me guessing most of the way. The cast of supporting characters were all well drawn, from the down right violent governor Mr Acton, Samuel Fleet the feared room mate and Kitty, his ward, to all the other prisoners, turnkeys and friends, all added to the story. I’d eagerly read more stories featuring them in the future.
All in all a lovely example of historical crime fiction. I look forward to reading more from Antonia Hodgson in the future.