I like a good historical thriller and this one was pretty good. The historical period this time is the early Georgians - 1727 to be precise.
The central character, Tom Hawkins, is the rakish, feckless elder son of a wealthy clergyman. He was set to follow in his father's footsteps but realised that the Church was not for him. We meet Tom, having won just enough at cards to pay off his immediate debts and save himself from the bailiffs. But all goes horribly wrong - he is robbed on his way home, is arrested the next day and taken to the notorious Marshalsea debtors prison.
Antonia Hodgson has created an authentic and atmospheric thriller that twists and turns at a fast pace. You really don't know who to trust and who to suspect. Her research into life in the 18th century gaol clearly shows. She paints a detailed picture which you can almost smell. My stomach roiled with Tom's at the descriptions of life on the Common Side and imprisonment in the Strong Room.
There are some memorably grotesque characters - William Acton (who really was the corrupt and violent governor of the Marshalsea), Samuel Fleet, Tom's cell mate, Moll King the owner of the coffee house Tom frequented and Madame Migault the sinister fortune teller.
I did feel that, whilst Samuel Fleet was introduced as a darkly menacing character who was feared and loathed by most of the prisoners, ultimately that didn't go far enough. I wanted to see more evidence of that. He was an interesting character who could have had further uses.
Just a minor point in what was a rollicking good read. I want to hear more of Tom Hawkins's adventures.