Review: The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

ISBN: 9781444775433

This is a nice change for me. It feels as though I’ve become a modernist, reading this. I’ve been transported from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century.

This book is the winner of the 2014 CWA Historical Dagger Award, I’m told.

Tom Hawkins, the wayward son of a country curate has been living in London for some time, mainly living on his wits and the money he wins from gambling. He has a taste for wine and women, and London is the place for both.

However, after a run of bad luck, he is accused of owing a large debt to his landlord. To his horror, he is told to pay up or be sent to the Marshalsea, the debtors’ prison, where he must be held until he can pay off the money he owes. Except the Marshalsea is not a place to earn money. There a man must pay for his upkeep, buy his food, his clothes, his drink. If he has no supporters outside, arrival at the prison is itself a sentence of death. Tom is terrified by the thought, but at the last minute, he manages to cobble together enough money to escape that fate.

And if he wasn’t knocked on the head by a small group of thieves and robbed of his money, he would have escaped.

Captured, thrown into the prison, he must try to survive. But then, as soon as he arrives, he learns that there has been a murder. A Captain Roberts has been found, and his widow is determined to find out who was responsible, by any means at her disposal. But who, out of all the inmates in this hideous prison, had the strongest motive to kill Roberts?

This is a very good first novel by a woman to watch. I enjoyed the story generally, and loved the characterisation especially of the man they called “The Devil”, Mr Fleet. If you have an interest in historical books of this period, you should like this.

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