The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

bookshelves: published-2014, net-galley, e-book, debut, britain-england, london, historical-fiction, first-in-series, spring-2014, mystery-thriller

Read from February 13 to March 14, 2014


Hodder & Stoughton

Description: London, 1727 – and Tom Hawkins is about to fall from his heaven of card games, brothels and coffee-houses to 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.

For Joanna, Justine and Victoria, with thanks

Opening quotes are by Daniel Defoe and John Granto, circa 1728/1729.

Marshalsea prison: John Constable 1703

Opening of the prologue: They came for him at midnight. There was no warning, no time to reach for the dagger hidden beneath his pillow. They had moved as silently as ghosts, crossing prison yard and stealing up the dank, narrow, staircase while he slept on, oblivious.

This has been marked up as Tom Hawkins #1. We gather from the front of this book, in the historical notes, that this story is set in the autumn of 1727 where the country is waiting for George II to be crowned. The debtors’ prisons are full to the gunwales with those who had their finances burst in the pricking of the South Sea Bubble.

Never, well hardly ever, have I been so enthralled at the circumstances at the end of a novel as with this: the potential for books about books and bookshops is staggeringly enticing for future numbers in this series. A great read this.

Page 133: ‘Would you permit me to take Mr Hawkins out into the Borough – perhaps to The George? I was there myself three months ago, sitting where both Dickens and Shakespeare had supped…
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Associated trivia:

The South Sea Bubble by William Hogarth. 400 years of bubbles. The same pattern of bubbles and busts has been repeated many times in capitalist history.

Was the South Sea Shares Fiasco before or after Tulipmania, I shall have to check, however given the propensity at any one time for extraordinary popular delusion and the ever present madness of crowds, expect a bubble.

Rake’s Progress by Hogarth


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