Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Devil in the Marshalsea

London 1727 was not a good place to be if you had any debts. There were debtor's prisons and Marshalsea was among them. Just outside the center of London, the prison held debtors until they could pay off the debt owed plus the cost of their incarceration.

Tom Hawkins is a gentleman by trade but has bad money habits. Trained to be a priest, he leaves that life and his parents after he decides that a more exciting life in London is what he wants. He owes 20 pounds to his creditors (a substantial sum at the time). To acquire the money he decides to gamble with what little he had left. To his credit he wins 10 pounds which is enough to keep him out of the Marshalsea. While walking home from the tavern where he and his friend Charles have gone to celebrate, Tom is mugged and his money stolen. The next day he is arrested and put in Marshalsea. His friend Charles, a vicar is distraught. He vows to help Tom survive the prison.

Tom's stay in Marshalsea is a life threatening one. Already beaten from the mugging, he runs afoul of the head of the prison and winds up being beaten again. He is rescued by the arrival of his friend Charles and his patron, Sir Philip Meadows, who is ultimately responsible for the prison. The prison has a ghost or so the inmates think. A man was murdered and the murder was covered up and the prisoners think Tom's new roommate Mr. Fleet did it. Tom makes a bargain wit the prison head and Sir Philip to try to solve a murder in exchange for his release. Now his trouble really start. 

This fast paced and historically accurate novel was written by first time author Antonia Hodgson. It is based on stories from the prison as well as some historical diaries. I recommend this great, atmospheric book.

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