Review: The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

DevilMarshalseaSeries: Tom Hawkins #1
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN: 1444775426
ISBN 13: 9781444775426
Published: March 2014
Pages: 384
Format reviewed: Paperback
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

Set in London in 1727, Tom Hawkins lives on his wits and by the skin of his teeth. He is trying to settle a warrant for his arrest by ‘earning’ enough gambling, to pay a debt to his landlord… but things don’t go as planned, and Hawkins finds himself, as the title of the novel suggests, in Marshalsea Gaol.

In this gaol everything has a price and anything is available to those who can afford it. Ironic for a man who is in gaol in the first place due to a lack of funds. Those who can’t afford the luxurious side of things, end up on the Common Side, where disease and violence rules under the cold eye of Head Keeper William Acton.

Things aren’t all bad for Hawkins, however. Though it is Samuel Fleet who takes him under his wing… so ‘bad’ may be debatable, as Fleet’s cell mate was recently murdered, and most of the inmates believe it was Fleet himself. Hawkins jumps at the chance to try to discover the murderer, as it will offer him the chance out of Marshalsea… as long as his choice is liked by those profiting from those running the gaol, of course. As though that isn’t encouragement enough, he is told that if he fails in the task, he shall be the next to be murdered. As he’s Fleet’s new cell mate though, it’s not like he has a whole lot of choices open to him…

This is an excellent piece of historical fiction. Hodgson has done her research, and it shows. For a debut novel the writing in this is beyond excellent, capturing the sense of time, the characters, the devastation of both the time and setting, and gives us a surprising range of characters who are all interesting from the small glimpses we see of them, right through as we learn more and more of them.

Hawkins is a appealing and depending protagonist, so it’s excellent that it seems that this is the start of a series. Let’s hope details of the second book are released soon.

Atmospheric and enjoyable, the ending is certainly a surprise, and ensures I’ll be watching this author for what they come out with next.

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