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.
©2014 Antonia Hodgson (P)2014 Tantor
"[Hodson] conjures up scenes of Dickensian squalor and marries them to a crackerjack plot, in her impressive first novel. . . . Hodgson makes the stench, as well as the despair, almost palpable." (Publishers Weekly)
I had been searching for new books narrated by John Lee - he is one of my favorite narrators - and found Marshalsea. I knew nothing about history of debtors prisons in England, so this book was educational as well as entertaining. The characters are well developed and believable. The author illuminates the complexity of human attachments and emotions, delivering a thoughtful description of inner "grayness" of souls. No one is perfect, every one is flawed in one way or another. I loved the book. It has a satisfying ending and the historical information is well researched.
The Devil in the Marshalsea had some very strong points and some very weak points, and some points that are very difficult for any author of his genre to escape with me. The strength is in the character building and the duality that Hodgson manages to create in almost every character, while still staying true to their individual natures. We really don't know who to suspect, who to like or dislike, or what the outcome and motive is going to be until the mystery is solved. Unfortunately, the solution to the mystery is a head-scratcher on a number of levels, and ultimately a letdown. The resolution of the mystery isn't the end of the story. Hodgson decided to spend the end of the story resolving some relationship lines, and that drags it out a bit, but it provided a couple more twists that weren't bad. The point that she couldn't escape with me is the "Scooby-Doo" feeling of murder mysteries, and hers having a Dickensian flare made it maybe a bit more pronounced for me.
Overall, I loved the characters, and missed them after I finished the book, but the story architecture had some serious issues. It was still an enjoyable read that I would probably recommend to someone who likes a mystery that has sufficient twists and very well-written dualities of character to keep it interesting enough to the end, with a warning that the ending can (but didn't for me) make the story feel like a waste of time in the "no way, really? I just read this whole story for >that<?!?" sense. It just doesn't add up. I just didn't care, since I liked the characters and their relationships enough to give her a pass on the "Scooby Don't".
John Lee is one of my favorite narrators but I would rank this title towards the bottom of his list. It just wasn't as well done as some others I have listened to. His characterizations and differentiations were excellent, and he is one of the few male narrators who can narrate female parts without destroying them, but the first person story narration was a bit stilted with a strange affect I didn't care for.
The premise was a little light - the unrepentant gambler turns into a detective - but it turned out to be a really good book. Its always surprising to learn something about history from a novel and it was shocking to me that the prison was run more like a mall.
Griping story, accurate historical look at London's debtor's prisons of the 18th Century.
A classic John Lee read - always at his best in this genre & time period. Brilliant performance of the many British accents.
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