London, 1727. Tom Hawkins, a gentleman known for his love of women, wine and gambling, finds that he cannot pay his debts. As a consequence he is taken to the infamous Marshalsea debtors prison.
Life inside is dangerous but tolerable if only he can manage to afford to live on the Master’s side, where all things considered, life is not so different from that beyond the walls. Luckily for Tom, the notorious Samuel Fleet, equally feared and despised within the prison, finds him intriguing, and he is soon sharing a room with him, courtesy of Fleet’s purse.
Tom quickly realises that things are not as settled within the Marshalsea as those running it would have it appear. Rumours of murder, ghosts and the devil spread. When he comes to learn that it was Fleet’s previous room mate who was murdered and that the majority of the prisoners believe that Fleet himself was responsible, he starts to wonder just how long he himself will survive.
Things look set to go from bad to worse for Tom when his fate becomes intertwined with the unmasking of a murderer.
Is there any chance of escape for Tom Hawkins, or will fate and those who are working towards their own agendas, conspire to ensure that he never makes it out of the Marshalsea alive?
The Marshalsea is the perfect setting for a murder mystery and provides a colourful cast of characters (many of whom use authentically colourful language). The story captured my attention from the beginning, pulling me deeper and deeper into it so that I couldn’t put the book down until I read it to its conclusion. The plot was full of twists and turns and was never for a moment too slow, quiet or sedate.
Within the walls of the prison, we are given a glimpse into the life of a eighteenth century debtor, which I found thoroughly interesting. The idea that there could be a coffeehouse and tap room / pub inside the prison made for such fascinating reading, but as always with the best books, it is the characters that we are introduced to in the story that make it believable and entertaining – this book is no different.
I would certainly be interested to read more by this author; she has a gift for bringing historical drama to life with such ease and strength that it is impossible not to get caught up in the tale she has written. Great stuff. One of my favourite books of the year so far…