Summary and book reviews of The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

The Devil in the Marshalsea

by Antonia Hodgson

The Devil in the Marshalsea
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    Jun 2014, 400 pages

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Book Summary

Thrilling new historical fiction starring a scoundrel with a heart of gold and set in the darkest debtors' prison in Georgian London, where people fall dead as quickly as they fall in love and no one is as they seem.

It's 1727. Tom Hawkins is damned if he's going to follow in his father's footsteps and become a country parson. Not for him a quiet life of prayer and propriety. His preference is for wine, women, and cards. But there's a sense of honor there too, and Tom won't pull family strings to get himself out of debt - not even when faced with the appalling horrors of London's notorious debtors' prison: The Marshalsea Gaol.

Within moments of his arrival in the Marshalsea, Hawkins learns there's a murderer on the loose, a ghost is haunting the gaol, and that he'll have to scrounge up the money to pay for his food, bed, and drink. He's quick to accept an offer of free room and board from the mysterious Samuel Fleet - only to find out just hours later that it was Fleet's last roommate who turned up dead. Tom's choice is clear: get to the truth of the murder - or be the next to die.

'Conscience makes ghosts walk, and departed souls appear . . . it works upon the imagination with an invincible force, like faith.'
— Daniel Defoe, The Secrets of the Invisible World Disclos'd, 1729

'Arose about four. In the Park I saw half a Dozen Crows in very hoarse conversation together, but not understanding their Language I cou'd not devise what they were upon, but believe they was agreeing how to divide the Corps of those unhappy wretches that Dye so briefly in this Place.'
— John Grano, A Journal of My Life while in the Marshalsea, 1728–9

HISTORICAL NOTE

The Devil in the Marshalsea is set in the autumn of 1727 in London and Southwark, which was generally regarded as a separate town at the time. King George I had died in June. His son, George II, was now king, although he was not crowned until October. People were curious to discover what sort of a monarch he would turn out to be. (A philistine and a buffoon, if we are to believe...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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… A winner! I read, I learned, I thought about this book for many days after I finished reading it.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews

Booklist

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.

Library Journal

History and mystery fans will both enjoy the roller-coaster twists and turns of this atmospheric historical thriller.

Kirkus Reviews

Hodgson's plotting is clever, perhaps even overly intricate, and the local color hair-raising.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Hodgson, the editor-in-chief of Little, Brown U.K., conjures up scenes of Dickensian squalor and marries them to a crackerjack plot, in her impressive first novel, set in 1727.

Author Blurb Jeffery Deaver, author of the bestselling The Kill Room and Edge
Historical fiction just doesn't get any better than this. A riveting, fast-paced story…Magnificent!

Author Blurb Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian and The Swan Thieves
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

Author Blurb Andrew Taylor, author of An Unpardonable Crime and The Four Last Things
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.

Reader Reviews

Denise Ann

Excellent who-done-it with an honorable character to boot!
Despite the setting, or perhaps because of it, this story was gripping. Tom Hawkins needed to solve the murder and fast. All the characters were believable. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse for Tom something else would happen. ...   Read More

Bill B

Should win awards
A really good piece of historical fiction. The setting isn't great. Nobody wants to be in Marshalsea Gaol, a London debtor's prison in 1720's - unless you have enough money to bribe the guards. But Ms Hodgson does a very good job describing the ...   Read More

Patricia S. (Yankton, SD)

a touch of Dickens
In her first historic mystery, The Devil in the Marshalsea, Antonia Hodgson has crafted a fascinating story in a finely drawn setting, filled with Dickensian style characters. I read far too late into the night, unable to put this book down. It ...   Read More

Alan K. (Westport, MA)

The Devil in the Marshalsea
Historical fiction set in the streets and debtors' prison in 1720's London. Fascinating material, well defined characters and a page turner. Highly recommend for fans of period pieces and mysteries.

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Beyond the Book

Marshalsea Prison

A fragment of a wall is all that is left of Marshalsea Prison.

But Charles Dickens has made sure that its memory lives on. His father was imprisoned in Marshalsea Prison in 1824. He owed forty pounds to a local baker (about 3000 pounds today). Charles scurried around the city trying to collect money on his father's behalf but it was insufficient and his father was arrested. Dickens was only twelve years old at the time. While the rest of his family moved into the prison with his father, he took up lodging nearby, worked full time and used the money to support them and his lodging. The whole experience left a huge, terrible impression on him; one that he never quite shook off. It showed up in his work often.

Marshalsea PrisonMarshalsea Prison was ...

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