The Devil in the Marshalsea Paperback – Jun 10 2014
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“A scenic intrigue filled with wastrels and gaols.” —Vogue’s “Buzziest Beach Reads”"Alive and immediate. The story crackles with anxiety as Tom finally finds purpose for his idle hands, the true meaning of honor and the identity of the real devil in the Marshalsea." —Chicago Tribune "Historical fiction just doesn’t get any better than this. A riveting, fast-paced story…Magnificent!" —Jeffery Deaver, author of the bestselling The Kill Room and Edge "Antonia Hodgson’s London of 1727 offers that rare achievement in historical fiction: a time and place suspensefully different from our own, yet real. The Devil in the Marshalsea reminds us at every turn that we ourselves may not have evolved far from its world of debtors and creditors, crime and generosity, appetite and pathos. A damn’d good read." —Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian and The Swan Thieves "A wonderfully convincing picture of the seamier side of 18th-century life. The narrative whips along. Antonia Hodgson has a real feel for how people thought and spoke at the time—and, God knows, that’s a rare talent." —Andrew Taylor, author of An Unpardonable Crime and The Four Last Things "It is the mesh of lies and duplicity that draws you into this brilliant first novel." —The Times (UK) "There are enough plot twists to fill an upturned three-corner hat and a cast of memorable and believable inmates, good and bad. This is a riveting historical thriller that's finely crafted and difficult to put down." —Daily Mail (UK) "Something new in the world of historical crim fiction, with mesmerising detail and atmosphere." —Financial Times (UK) "Splendid...Impeccably researched and astonishingly atmospheric, with time past evoked so strongly that one can almost smell it, this is a truly spellbinding tale." —The Guardian (UK) "Superbly written, historically accurate, always convincing and often quite chilling...A book to savour." —Crime Review (UK) "The plot develops almost as many intricate turns as there are passages in the Marshalsea…Hodgson’s plotting is clever…the local color hair-raising." –Kirkus Reviews "[Hodgson] conjures up scenes of Dickensian squalor and marries them to a crackerjack plot, in her impressive first novel...Hodgson makes the stench, as well as the despair, almost palpable, besides expertly dropping fair clues. Fans of Iain Pears and Charles Palliser will hope for a sequel." --Publishers Weekly (STARRED REVIEW) "Satisfyingly twisty debut thriller...so well detailed that one can almost smell the corruption, and the irrepressibly roguish Tom makes a winning hero." —Booklist
From the Back Cover
A riveting, fast-paced story . . . Magnificent. Jeffery Deaver
London, 1727. Tom Hawkins refuses to follow in his father s footsteps and become a country parson. His preference is for wine, women, and cards. But there s honor there too, and Tom won t pull family strings to get himself out of debt not even when faced with London s notorious debtors prison.
The Marshalsea Gaol is a 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 its rutheless governor and his cronies. The trouble is, Tom 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 dazzling evocation of a startlingly modern era, "The Devil in the Marshalsea" is a thrilling debut novel full of intrigue and suspense.
A wonderfully convincing picture of the seamier side of eighteenth-century life. Antonia Hodgson has a real feel for how people thought and spoke at the time and, God knows, that s a rare talent. Andrew Taylor, author of "An Unpardonable Crime "
Antonia Hodgson is the editor in chief of Little, Brown UK. She lives in London. "The Devil in the Marshalsea" is her first novel.
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As the author explains in the afterword, the novel was in part inspired by actual events and many of the characters were real people who lived in the Marshalsea at that time (1727). She has lovingly done extensive research into what life in the prison was like and that comes through with lots of details and atmosphere. Yet I couldn't help feeling that the research bogged the novel down in parts. For example there is one incident when a character is thrown into solitary lock up where the dead bodies are stored. It felt like the author really wanted to let us know about how that was done, rather than something that arose naturally within the plot. Likewise the hero's excursions into the Common Side felt less than credible, and more about telling us about life in the prison.
This is a murder mystery, but it is erratically paced and some of the red herrings are simply too crimson to be credible. There were sections where I could hardly put the book down, but there were other parts that plodded. I also found it hard to forgive the author for removing one of the most interesting characters from the story. In short, I found the historical setting fascinating and some of the characters terrific, but it was simply too uneven in pace and suspense for me.
It's 1727 and protagonist Tom Hawkins, a clergyman's son who had studied to be a man of God but decided that the secular life was much more appealing, what with all the drinking, gambling and whoring involved, finds himself in a terrible pickle. Now on the outs with his country parson father and finding himself deep in debt, he ends up a prisoner at the Marshalsea, the notorious debtors' prison which at that time was an even more horrific place to be locked up than the Marshalsea of Charles Dickens' time.
Author Hodgson, editor-in-chief of Little, Brown UK, has written a masterly debut work of historical fiction. Impeccable research and attention to detail has the reader squirming at the atrocities, inhumane treatment and horrors of life in debtors' prison.
The Marshalsea was divided into two sectors: 1) the Common Side for the extremely poor debtors who were crowded into cells of 30 or more, starved and stripped of any human dignity, and 2) the Master's Side, where prisoners could pay for food and better care and better cells, although even this side was definitely not a pleasant place to live. The only way penniless Tom can remain on the Master's Side is by accepting the sponsorship of prisoner Samuel Fleet, considered by most to be a devil and the murderer of his last cellmate.
At the same time that Tom is living with the alleged murderer Fleet, Tom's friend Charles intercedes for him with the King's Marshal and Tom is offered forgiveness of his debt and freedom if he can discover who the murderer in the debtors' prison is. There is a vast array of characters to choose from: government officials, the prison chaplain, the cruel and greedy warden and his wife, the vicious guards, the prison ghost, the widow of the murdered prisoner, an assortment of prisoners including, of course, Fleet himself. The twists and turns in the story and the variety of possible suspects may keep you guessing to the very end.
Hodgson's very descriptive writing and ability to flesh out her characters had me fascinated to the end. I could almost see, smell and feel what was going on and much of it was truly horrendous. I enjoyed this story as much for the immersion into life in Georgian England as for the mystery and I do hope the author will continue to write more stories about Tom Hawkins' life.
The author has clearly done a great deal of research and we are introduced to a wonderful cast of characters. The prison is clearly a place where, ironically for a debtor’s prison, money can buy you pretty much anything – a better room, a convivial atmosphere in the Tap Room and there is even a restaurant. Everything has a price and if you can’t pay it then you are forced from the Master’s Side to the Common Side. On the Common Side, those without even enough coins to feed themselves are crammed into cells full of disease, hunger and despair. They rely on charity, but that is in short supply in a place which is based upon corruption and is ruled under the violent and vicious eye of Head Keeper William Acton.
While Hawkins attempts to find his feet in this new world, he is taken under the dubious wing of the feared Samuel Fleet. His recent cell mate, Captain Roberts, was murdered and most of the prison believes Fleet to be the culprit. Meanwhile, Captain Roberts beautiful widow is haunting the prison, demanding justice. As unrest builds, Hawkins is offered a chance of redemption. If he can find out who murdered Captain Roberts, then he may escape the walls of the Marshalsea. That is, of course, if the murderer is an acceptable choice to Sir Philip Meadows – who is making an enormous profit from the prison, and the prisoners, and wants to keep it that way.
This is a well written and enjoyable historical mystery. I enjoyed the setting – extremely well written and realistic – and I liked the characters. Unlike many books, the ending really was a surprise. So often you read a really good novel and the ending is a little bit of a disappointment, but this one did manage to catch me unawares. A promising debut and I do hope that Tom Hawkins is given another adventure to solve. Lastly, I received a copy of this book from NetGalley, for review.
Hawkins, at least, will be spared from the Common side -- for the time being. But only thanks to the intervention of a mysterious and affluent man on the Governor's Side, Samuel Fleet, who agrees to pay his board and lodging to the violent, volatile and corrupt warden, onetime butcher William Acton. But why has Fleet done this? It can't be out of charity. Every one of their fellow prisoners look at him with suspicion and fear; he is, they warn Hawkins, the devil, and the last man to share his room, Captain Roberts, was found hanged.
Ironically, it may be Roberts's death that offers Hawkins the key to freedom. The captain's widow is kicking up such a fuss about her husband's death -- murder, she proclaims, to anyone who will listen -- that the governor, a knight of the realm whose daughter will become a lady in waiting to the new queen -- is worried about his ability to keep making money from his for-profit prison enterprise. The only way to shut her up and quell the disturbances on the Common Side is to find out whodunnit. And if Hawkins can do so, well, he will go free.... If he can stay alive...
This isn't always a fast-paced yarn, but much of the time I didn't mind because the setting and characters were fresh and vivid. In many ways, it's the ultimate "locked room" mystery (only in this case, it's a locked prison setting...) Some suspects, everyone would love to find guilty, ranging from the most brutal of the gaolers to the discomfiting Fleet, whom Hawkins doesn't know if he can trust, but can't help finding not only invaluable (for keeping him free of the cesspit on the Common Side) but for his knowledge of the politics of the Marshalsea and his ability to analyze the situation.
The final twists and turns in the tale also were intriguing, and prevented it from slipping too readily into the "OK, mystery solved, everybody lives happily ever after" category too rapidly. Overall, I was happy to discover a fresh voice, and an intriguing new historical mystery set in an era about which I realized I know all-too little. Next, please?
Set in 18th century Georgian London and, more specifically, in a debtor's prison called the Marshalsea, this book took me completely by surprise. While I have been reading some great historical titles of late, I'm afraid I found myself getting into a kind of reading slump. This book has definitely pulled me out. It has been awhile since I've read such an atmospheric book. As I was reading, I was visualizing every scene and action as if I was right there in the middle of the action.
One thing that rings true in the book is that the London of this time was a very dangerous place, inside or outside the Marshalsea. Stumble into the wrong side of town and you were lucky to just come away robbed, not murdered. Being on the constant watch for misfortune had to be exhausting. Even more so for our illustrious main character, Tom Hawkins, inside the Marshalsea. Having to find out who murdered a debtor, who just happened to have been his look alike, while rooming with a man who may very well be the killer, Tom is poised on a perilous precipice indeed.
A reader of historical fiction couldn't ask for a more exciting and well-written novel than this debut novel. I've heard that this is the first in a planned historical crime series and I really can't wait to read the next one.