BookBrowse Reviews The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

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The Devil in the Marshalsea

by Antonia Hodgson

The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson X
The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson
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    Jun 2014, 400 pages


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A dazzling twist-and-turn novel, set in 18th century London, The Devil in the Marshalsea is a thrilling debut.

The Devil in the Marshalsea, by Antonia Hodgson, is a huge hit with BookBrowse readers. All 27 out of 27 reviews gave it a 4 or a 5. What was it about this historical murder mystery that kept readers up at night?

A cunning debut historical mystery by Antonia Hodgson, editor in chief of Little, Brown, UK. Thoroughly researched, this mystery is set in London's Marshalsea debtor's prison in 1727. Populating her fast-paced narrative with real-life characters, Hodgson weaves a vivid tale which intrigues both as a solid historical mystery as well as a lucid portrait of a little known aspect of early eighteenth century London society (Julia E). A winner! I read, I learned, I thought about this book for many days after I finished reading it (Florence K). This is an enticing story of murder and bribery, of making friends and discovering enemies, and of surviving prison and discovering love (Colleen T). Hodson's well-researched storyline offers an array of characters. She keeps the reader guessing the identity of the murderer; and when the last page is finished it screams, "Tom is most certainly returning to let readers know what trouble he finds next!" At least I hope she writes a sequel (Janis H).

Readers were transfixed with the twists and turns in the story – they could barely put the book down!

The author does a good job of keeping the reader's interest by changing the direction of the story. Many characters are not what they appear to be when you first meet them. The ending was a total surprise to me (Doris K). It was a page turner in the truest sense (Alyce T). I read far too late into the night, unable to put this book down. It fulfills its opening promise and thoroughly satisfies. The denouement surprises while giving the reader that ah ha, of course moment (Patricia S). Just when you think you have the mystery solved, you are thrown in a completely different direction. This book is the true definition of a page turner and I look forward to future books from this talented author (Diana C).

They also felt that the setting was extraordinarily vivid and compelling – the prison was almost like a character itself:

The novel is also imbued with a strong sense of place - Hodgson's gritty descriptions of day-to-day life in the Marshalsea are intriguing and disturbing and are clearly the product of thorough research (Terri O). The Devil in the Marshalsea is mystery that will keep you guessing until the last few pages. Not for the faint of heart, the story will thrill, fascinate, and horrify you – all in one story. If you enjoy mysteries that are enhanced by the environment in which they are told, The Devil in the Marshalsea will be "un-put-down-able!" (Amy G). The added mystery of a murder is almost secondary to the exquisitely-drawn characters, and the dramatic details of life in the jail. One can almost smell the decay and illness (Mary D). A well-written historical novel although, in my opinion, not for the faint of heart. The dreadful conditions in Marshalsea are graphically depicted! (Freya H) It is the Marshalsea prison itself that is the main character. The prison's unique internal social, legal, and organizational structure during the 18th century is a captivating historical lesson in itself, and it is this structure and the prison's brooding presence throughout the book that directs the characters and action (James R).

Readers were impressed with the way Antonia Hodgson was able to take extensive research and transform it into a page turner:

I loved this book. It's still a wonder to me how this author can take a subject as unpleasant as debtors' prisons in 18th century Britain and turn it into a fascinating, page turning book. Then add to the mix a few absorbing murder mysteries to make it even more interesting. Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and this book delivers on all fronts (Diana C). The research that went into this historical fiction work was awesome. I had no idea how the class system and life worked in a prison like Marshalsea including politics and religion (Alyce T). I was never as interested in the so-called 'facts' that were presented in history classes about periods/events/places than I am when there are stories involved. I guess that is what makes historical fiction a delicious AND nutritious genre. Putting it that way, The Devil in Marshalsea is a dish! (Christy S)

Finally, readers had many ideas about who would love this book:

The story has something for everyone; a mysterious rogue, a charming preacher's son, the evil bad guys, and the sweet servant girl to add some love interest (Donna W). This book would appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction/mysteries (Terri O). If you are a fan of mysteries in "exotic" places with lots of small but important twists and turns of fate, this is the book for you! (Mary D) Highly recommend for fans of period pieces and mysteries (Alan K). This is a book I would recommend for a book club. The moral questions faced by characters set in difficult and hard circumstances should allow for lively and thoughtful conversation. Would we be able to do things differently if put in these circumstances? (Donna T)

This review is from the June 18, 2014 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Marshalsea Prison

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