Thursday, June 05, 2014

Book review: The Devil in the Marshalsea, by Antonia Hodgson

As promised in the historical note that opens Hodgson’s satisfyingly twisty debut thriller, readers will encounter an eye-opening look at Georgian London’s debtors’ prisons and some authentically colorful swearing within its pages. Tom Hawkins experiences both of these when he’s thrown into the Marshalsea Gaol after too many gambling losses and a near-fatal mugging.

To his surprise, the Marshalsea seems like a miniature town, complete with a tap room, coffeehouse, and barber. “Indeed it reminded me of my old college, save for the iron spikes,” he observes. But after meeting many disreputable characters and hearing screams coming from the gaol’s “Common Side,” where those too broke to afford their upkeep are left to rot, he almost regrets not obeying his estranged father and becoming a clergyman.

Complicating matters further are Samuel Fleet, Tom’s fear-inducing roommate, and conspiracies surrounding a former prisoner whose ghost reportedly roams—and whose murder Tom must solve, or else. The squalid atmosphere is so well detailed that one can almost smell the corruption, and the irrepressibly roguish Tom makes a winning hero.

The Devil in the Marshalsea, first in a new series, will be published by Houghton/Mariner in trade paperback on June 10th (400pp, $15.95).   This review first appeared in Booklist's April 15th issue. The author will shortly be touring the blogosphere with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, and she'll be stopping by here with an interview on Friday, June 20th.

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