My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It took me a long time to get into this book, the main character, Tom Hawkins, is a disreputable early 18th century cad, who is not at all likeable. He gets thrown into debtors prison, the Marshalsea, where he then undergoes a slightly too quick to be that believable, change of character and turns into a bit of a hero.
The Marshalsea is a horrible place, split into two, the Masters and the Commons sides, the Masters side is not too bad as long as you have money, but if you don’t, you get chucked over onto the Commons side, where prisoners are crammed into squalid conditions, dying of sickness and starvation. Tom arrives not that long after a murder and circumstances soon conspire against him, so that he has no choice but to investigate.
The book was very well researched and many of the characters were based on real life people who were in the jail and surrounding area at that time. The horrible conditions described were also based on historical records. I always like books that teach me about a bit of history I didn’t know about.
Despite Hawkins’ rapid personality change, Hodgson created some memorable characters and was clearly setting Hawkins up for more adventures, which although this book is never going to go down in my annals of favourite books, I think I may be tempted to read more books if this series develops.
(As a side note, I listened to this as an audiobook and although I don’t normally comment on audiobook production, I’m commenting here because despite the fancy eerie music and jail sound effects, this audiobook was not well edited. There were many points throughout the story, where the narrator repeats whole sentences because the book had obviously been recorded in segments and the segments had not been edited well together. Makes you wonder had they listened through to the final product.)