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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great start to a new series
This is a first novel in what will hopefully be a long series. All the ingredients are here to make for an exciting and entertaining series set in C18th London.
Tom Hawkins, an adventurer living on his wits, a `gentleman` in the world of card games and low living is sent to the Marshalsea debtors` prison. Here his world of easy come and go is destroyed. Run as a...
Published 9 months ago by Robert Archer

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed the book
I enjoyed the book, but did not rush to read it daily. I think the problem was the fact that the story takes place in the one place. I know, I know, its called the 'Marshalsea' but i think it lost something by staying (mostly) in the prison. I also thought there were too many characters and got a tad confusing. I have read all the C.J. Sansom books and both Hilary Mantel...
Published 1 month ago by keithwillb


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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great start to a new series, 13 Mar 2014
By 
Robert Archer - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Devil in the Marshalsea (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a first novel in what will hopefully be a long series. All the ingredients are here to make for an exciting and entertaining series set in C18th London.
Tom Hawkins, an adventurer living on his wits, a `gentleman` in the world of card games and low living is sent to the Marshalsea debtors` prison. Here his world of easy come and go is destroyed. Run as a profitable enterprise for the benefit of Sir Philip Meadows it is a stinking cess pit in Southwark governed by the brutal ex-butcher William Acton. There has been a murder in the prison and Tom is charged with finding the murderer in return for his freedom.
The plot twists and turns as Tom struggles to retain his health and senses in the pestilent prison confines. As bad as it is his visit to the `Common Side`, where the dead are pitilessly dragged out and left for their families to pay for the bodies, shows him an image of hell on earth-a fate he later experiences for himself.
Never knowing who to trust and constantly living in fear of a daily barbarity Tom stumbles into solving the mystery. Along the way he finds Kitty, a servant girl who shows him that humanity can exist in even the most vile conditions.
The plotting and the setting of the story are compelling reading. Looking forward to the next story already.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DESERVING OF ALL THE PLAUDITS, 23 Sep 2014
Tom Hawkins is a gentleman living by his wits in early 1700's London.
Trying to live life to the full he is a gambler, drinker and enjoys the company of prostitutes. We cannot however dislike him.
Hawins luck is about to run out though. He is in debt and London has a place for dealing with debtors, the notorious debtors prison Marshalsea.
Hawkins is cast into the prison and has to think on his feet to stay alive.
The majority of the book takes place over a 5 day period in the jail where Hawkins finds himself rooming with the equally notorious Samuel Fleet. Fleets last room mate was murdered in his bed. This murder is causing disruption to the prison and to the governor in particular and his numerous money making schemes.
Marshalsea is a community within a community with its hierarchy and the class system very much alive. It is also a brutal place if you are unable to cross the right palm with silver.
Hawkins finds himself offered the deal of solving the murder of his predecessor in return for his freedom and reluctantly sets about the investigation.
There are twists and turns along the way and the book is a highly entertaining read which I thoroughly enjoyed.
The author appears to have done painstaking research and the book is written in just the right tone to evoke the era.
Fully deserving of 5 stars in my opinion
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great historical fiction, fascinating setting, 28 Aug 2014
4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion.

Tom Hawkins is a Gentleman without purpose. He drifts through life, spending his money on gambling and brothels with little thought for the future. Soon his actions catch up with him and he finds himself owing his landlord £20, which he cannot pay. After winning £10 at cards he is happy in the belief that this will hold off his landlord until he can win the rest. That same night however the money is lost again, this time in a different way and Tom finds himself thrown in the Marshalsea; the dreaded debtors prison. He winds up sharing a room with Sam Fleet, a dangerous individual suspected of murdering his room mate some months previously.

Soon Tom is drawn into the unique way of the Marshalsea and sets out to find out the murderer, and hopefully save himself in the process.

I love historical fiction. It transports us to a different time and I soon find myself immersed in that strange other world. I am also fascinated with the Marshalsea, the debtors prison where prisoners had to pay rent, buy their own food and pay for servants - if they were lucky enough to live on the Master's side. The fact that family could live with the debtor but be free to come and go, as were some of the prisoners, and that some of the more trusted inmates were allowed to be turnkeys, is a wonderful draw. I therefore loved that this story was set here.

Antonia Hodgson has obviously put in a lot of research into London and the Marshalsea of the time. I could imagine the stench and grime of the city and the prison and almost feel how it must have been in the Marshalsea, and how traumatic an experience it must have been for those poor souls locked in the common side where conditions were almost unimaginably terrible.

Tom Hawkins is, at least at the beginning, not a very likeable character. He is selfish and self serving, thinking only of having fun, no matter the cost. However he does start to develop as a character and despite some of the things that happen to him in prison, or indeed because of them, he does start to become a better person. He's not a completely changed character however and the rakishness still shines through to the very end.

The murder mystery itself is engaging and despite me guessing the whodunit before the reveal it kept me guessing most of the way. The cast of supporting characters were all well drawn, from the down right violent governor Mr Acton, Samuel Fleet the feared room mate and Kitty, his ward, to all the other prisoners, turnkeys and friends, all added to the story. I'd eagerly read more stories featuring them in the future.

All in all a lovely example of historical crime fiction. I look forward to reading more from Antonia Hodgson in the future.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed the book, 29 Oct 2014
I enjoyed the book, but did not rush to read it daily. I think the problem was the fact that the story takes place in the one place. I know, I know, its called the 'Marshalsea' but i think it lost something by staying (mostly) in the prison. I also thought there were too many characters and got a tad confusing. I have read all the C.J. Sansom books and both Hilary Mantel (Cromwell) books and was trying to put my finger on exactly why this book didn't quite reach those heady heights (a difficult accomplishment at the best of times) . I can only come up with: it tries just a smidge too hard. Sansom and Mantel's characters, descriptions and story-lines seem effortless in comparison. However, I will buy the next Hawkins adventure, just to see what has happened to him.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Historical Romp, 30 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Devil in the Marshalsea (Hardcover)
I loved this book from start to finish. Not only was the book atmospheric and suitably dark but also had an element of tongue in cheek fun and bawdy humour. The grim confines of the Marshalsea are peppered with a cast of well drawn characters and a story with enough twists to induce vertigo. I loved the way the author put to use some classic tropes such as the mysterious widow, the obsequious clergyman and the restless ghost, yet managed to make them feel fresh and new.
The real feat of this novel, for me, is the way the author presents a totally alien world yet makes the characters seem believable and possible to relate to without making them improbable within that context.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Read, 6 Mar 2014
By 
Angela Lovelace "Angela" (Essex) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Devil in the Marshalsea (Hardcover)
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The Devil in the Marshalsea is Antonia Hodgson's début crime novel set in the seedier side of Georgian London and mostly within the confines of the infamous Marshalsea Debtor's prison. The writing was superb and the action fast paced. This is a book that would appeal to male and female readers of the genre. Rich in detail, history and story, I was very impressed with this book and will be reading the subsequent books in the series of the tales of Tom Hawkins.

Tom Hawkins is a bit of a rake, gamble and man about town. He lives by the luck of the next turn of the cards or whatever fortune throws at him. Estranged from his father, a country cleric of good family, he makes his own way in life, having turning his back on the studies to follow in his father's footsteps. When we find Tom, he is in a bit of trouble, desperate to accumulate some funds or else he will end up as the newest inmate of the Marshalsea debtor's prison. (A fate worse than death to some)

Tom wins the money to pay his debt, only to be brutally robbed, and his fate is sealed...

The author really draws you in with the brutality of the prison, with the sounds, the smells and the living conditions, that you feel like you are a part of it. A mixture of fictional characters as well as real persons from the time, blend well together, giving you a real page turner whodunnit of a story. The fact that the story is set over several days keeps it moving at a nice pace and makes you realise how quickly your life can change from minute to minute when at the mercy of the system, which is very corrupt.

Tom ends up being involved in solving the murder of a Capt Roberts, his life depends on finding the culprit and ensuring his own freedom into the bargain. There is even a little romance. Excellent first novel that really makes you a part of the times it is set in.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Great potential, needs work!, 18 Nov 2014
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Pros:

1) The setting is original and well-researched. It would be very easy to get wrapped up in the detail when working with this material.

2) The set-up (the whodunit element) is almost too good; there are so many characters with motive and opportunity that it takes a while to get going. Could cause problems for a screen adaptation - they'd need to be thinned out. But it does mean that the reader keeps guessing to the end, as s/he should.

Cons:

1) The hero is too passive; we don't see him displaying his talents (such as they are - he's a card sharp) and too many times things happen to him rather than him instigating them. He's bland considering the company he keeps.

2) SPOILER The best character in the book, the one it might be named after, the one you could potentially build a franchise around, is killed; a catastrophic error. Possibly intended to stun / surprise the reader and / or as a part of the promotion of another (female) character - for understandable (but misplaced) authorial reasons. If the story is to be about this young woman's journey to adulthood, then the book needs to be re-written accordingly. It's not her story in its current form, so her elevation is redundant.

3) The conclusion fails on more than one level. After such good groundwork, it's neither surprising (because the plot-twists after the reveal of the killer do not link directly to the killing, and are entirely predictable) nor inevitable (because of the true nature of the killing and the scarcely credible mechanics of the denouement). It smacks of re-writes trying alternate solutions with the (admittedly strong) elements of the set-up.

For the inevitable screen adaptation:

Easy to fix - thin out the supporting cast (including the female lead), make the hero more proactive, temporarily incapacitate (rather than kill) the best secondary character.

Harder to fix - the ending needs to be completely re-written, to dovetail the post-killing twists with the killing itself, and to make the killing and the climax believable.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous period detail wrapped around a murder-mystery that keeps you guessing, 7 Nov 2014
By 
K. J. Noyes "Katy Noyes" (Derbyshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Devil in the Marshalsea (Hardcover)
4.5 stars

Another different Richard and Judy choice. Loved this. Even the squalid, icky and upsetting parts.

Period-wise, it's fantastically detailed and real. Set in 1720s London, I could see the prison, clothes, pubs, squalor and hopelessness. Language-wise, it felt like a contemporary novel a lot of the time (it certainly didn't read like Dickens), but this did make it an easy read.

Despite raising enough funds to stave off his landlord, a robbery sets 'gentleman' Tom Hawkins up for a spell in a notorious debtors' prison, the Marshalsea, until he's paid them off. Although of course, he'll be paying for food, a room, comforts while he's there as well. And soon after arriving Tom gets caught up in the recent murder of an occupant of the prison. Keeping himself alive is just one of his priorities. There are plenty of reasons to find out what happened to the dead prisoner, and plenty of suspects...

It's a brilliant setting for a murder mystery. It does follow a lot of modern conventions of the genre (multiple suspects, clues leading to each other, tangents and false leads, mysterious and shady ladies who may or may not have darker purposes) but in such a unique setting that it's for a history fan just as much as for someone who likes a good murder/thriller tale.

I did get a little confused early on with so many names and characterse introduced within the prison setting, but soon managed to distinguish most of them through their speech. Tom himself is a witty and rascally young man, one you 'enjoy' exploring the prison with.

There is a lot of fairly upsetting poverty and violence throughout, which might put a few people off. But nothing graphic.

I loved the way the story turned and didn't guess the eventual guilty party. I did however learn a fair bit about 18th century life in London, and in the Marshalsea. And feel very grateful for the welfare support systems we have in place today!

Recommended if you like murders, prison stories or period pieces.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Devil in the Marshalsea, 27 Mar 2014
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 10 REVIEWER)   
This atmospheric , and enjoyable, debut novel is set in 1727 London. Tom Hawkins is a bit of a rake – having argued with his reverend father, he has ended up in London living by his wits and skills at gambling. When we meet him he is endeavouring to raise the money he needs to avoid a warrant out for his arrest, due to a debt of just over twenty pounds which he owes to his landlord. Having won half the money he needs on the turn of a card he is relieved and joyful and ignores the advice of his oldest friend, the Reverend Charles Buckley, to go directly home. Instead, he lingers with a pretty woman and has a drink or two, which results in his being robbed in the way back to his lodgins. Before long he is being marched through the streets to the infamous debtor’s prison, Marshalsea Gaol. His friend Charles lives with his patron, Sir Philip Meadows, who is the Knight Marshal of the Marshalsea; but there are no strings to be pulled which can extricate him from this predicament.

The author has clearly done a great deal of research and we are introduced to a wonderful cast of characters. The prison is clearly a place where, ironically for a debtor’s prison, money can buy you pretty much anything – a better room, a convivial atmosphere in the Tap Room and there is even a restaurant. Everything has a price and if you can’t pay it then you are forced from the Master’s Side to the Common Side. On the Common Side, those without even enough coins to feed themselves are crammed into cells full of disease, hunger and despair. They rely on charity, but that is in short supply in a place which is based upon corruption and is ruled under the violent and vicious eye of Head Keeper William Acton.

While Hawkins attempts to find his feet in this new world, he is taken under the dubious wing of the feared Samuel Fleet. His recent cell mate, Captain Roberts, was murdered and most of the prison believes Fleet to be the culprit. Meanwhile, Captain Roberts beautiful widow is haunting the prison, demanding justice. As unrest builds, Hawkins is offered a chance of redemption. If he can find out who murdered Captain Roberts, then he may escape the walls of the Marshalsea. That is, of course, if the murderer is an acceptable choice to Sir Philip Meadows – who is making an enormous profit from the prison, and the prisoners, and wants to keep it that way.

This is a well written and enjoyable historical mystery. I enjoyed the setting – extremely well written and realistic – and I liked the characters. Unlike many books, the ending really was a surprise. So often you read a really good novel and the ending is a little bit of a disappointment, but this one did manage to catch me unawares. A promising debut and I do hope that Tom Hawkins is given another adventure to solve. Lastly, I received a copy of this book from NetGalley, for review.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A riveting and thrilling read, 27 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Devil in the Marshalsea (Hardcover)
The Devil in the Marshalsea is a wonderfully atmospheric read. From the first page I was swept into historical London with its coffee houses, brothels, disease and stink. Tom Hawkins is something of a scoundrel - a gambler, a bit of a flirt but at heart is a good man.

But Tom’s luck runs out and he is arrested and taken to the debtor’s prison – Marshalsea Gaol – a hell on earth… Here, money rules and if you don’t have money you’d better know someone who does! Tom is taken in hand by Samuel Fleet, a man who is feared throughout the prison and believed to be responsible for the recent murder of Captain Roberts (within the prison).

Tom is charged with solving Captain Roberts’ murder to ensure his release, but there are those who would kill to stop the truth from coming out. It is possible to find truth in such corrupt and violent place? Does Tom have the heart to withstand the cruelty inflicted on him and those around him?
From start to finish this book draws you in further and further until you can smell the grime and actually start to flinch from the brutality and harsh landscape of the prison. And yet I couldn’t look away for one moment! I had to keep reading, desperate to find out what would happen next and never guessing where the story would take me.

A riveting and thrilling read, overflowing with atmosphere and danger - I wholeheartedly recommend.
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The Devil in the Marshalsea
The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson (Hardcover - 27 Mar 2014)
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