The Devil in the Marshalsea – Antonia Hodgson

This one was something I rarely read – historical crime fiction, for some unknown reason I usually prefer myy crime to be contemporary, or at least 20th century. I probably was tempted to buy this one on one of the kindle sales, which is where I get most of my crime stash.

The book is set in 1727, our main protagonist is Thomas Hawkins, a young man who was meant to follow his father footsteps and become a vicar, but it didn’t exactly happen. During his studies Thomas was lured by the dubious charms of gambling, coffee houses and brothels, when he dropped out of university and broke all contact with his father who disinherited him, he moved to London to continue on the chosen path. As it happens this landed him in debt in no time and when we meet him he is about to be arrested and thrown into debtors gaol. He almost manages to get away, but not quite (I don’t consider this a major spoiler, as it all happens in the first pages of the book).

Thomas ends up in Marshalsea, the prison is meticuously described by Hodgson in all its gore and cruelty. The descriptions of the ‘poor side’ made me think of hell, this is how it must look like if it exists. In fact the place is almost a presence of its own, a character developed in a similar way as Thomas, or his cell mate, hated and feared by everyone Samuel Fleet.

As if things were not bad enough, shortly before Thomas arrived to prison one of the debtors has died in circumstances that seem suspicious to some. Thomas is soon tasked with finding out how Captain Roberts died. Unwilling as he is to accept this task he isn’t given much choice in the matter, with pressure coming from all sides, enemies aplenty and friends on the inside being scarce.

I found htis book fascinating, not so much because of the plot, but because of all the research Hodgson did and used to build a world where Thomas functions. Not a pleasant one at all, it stinks, is full of misery, greed and death. The story starts a bit slow, and may not be the most action packed, but together with fascinating if disgusting setting it was interesting enough to keep me reading, there were also a few twists that helped to keep my interest.

All in all not a bad book, I guess I found the historical aspect more interesting than I expected.

How do you like your crime? Historical or modern? Or maybe you don’t like crime fiction at all? Please share your thoughts in comments!


This is book #19 of my 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 746books.

Number 18 will not be reviewed – yes, it was that bad, if you want to know what it was check here.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

5 thoughts on “The Devil in the Marshalsea – Antonia Hodgson

  1. I like historical crime fiction, so long as the setting feels authentic. I hate if they give all the characters 21st century attitudes or make them know things people in the time wouldn’t have known. But if they get it right, I think it can add an extra level of interest – plus it does tend to mean we don’t get alcoholic detectives or endless descriptions of autopsies! This one sounds as though the author has done a really good job – must check it out! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: August round-up –

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