Sunday, October 4, 2015
The Devil In The Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson
The Marshalsea. It sounds like a hauntingly beautiful coastal location. But in London in 1727, it had a more ominous meaning. The Marshalsea was the debtors prison and any who were sentenced there were lucky to escape with their lives. Prisoners not only had to come up with the money they owned, but while in the prison had to pay rent, purchase their food, etc. Those who didn't even had the money to do that were thrown into the common area where disease and crime was rampant and bodies were carted out of the wards daily. Even death did not free the prisoner. Their family had to pay to get the body to bury it.
This is the place where Thomas Hawkins finds himself. He could have stayed in the country and been a parson, following his father's footsteps. But the lure of wine, women and song was too strong and Tom moved to London. His gambling debts piled up and soon he was slated to prison. Tom made one last night at the gaming tables to try to win enough money to relieve his debts and unlikely as it may seem, actually did so. But it was to no avail as he was mugged and relieved of his winnings and when he woke up from the beating he received, it was in the Marshalsea.
Once there, his friend Charles who worked for a powerful man, came to visit and try to find ways to get Tom released. Tom is left to make the acquaintance of those around him, where no man could be trusted. The worst of them all is Samuel Fleet, who everyone agrees is a man who would do anything. Tom is horrified to find he must share a room with Fleet. As the days pass, the jail is in a state of unrest as a recent prisoner with influence was found dead and most say murdered. Tom is offered the chance to work his way out of the Marshalsea by finding the murderer of Captain Charles Roberts, an unlikely task when he doesn't have allies or trusted sources of information. He is even more downhearted when he is assigned a partner in his investigation, who turns out to be Fleet. Can the two find the murderer and win release?
Antonia Hodgson has written a well-researched historical mystery. The Marshalsea was a real place and many of the characters are actual historical figures. The reader will be appalled at the conditions encountered there and will not figure out the mystery ahead of its revelation. This book is recommended for mystery readers.