This was on my ‘to-read’ list for ages and I finally spotted it on one of my and D’s now-weekly trips to the tiny local branch library. It’s a combination of whodunnit, romance and tale of hard times that just happens to be set in one of the most notorious debtors’ prisons in 18th century London.
Tom is the wastrel son of a country parson who finds himself thrown into the Marshalsea after a mugging means he can’t pay his rent. Unfortunately, he ends up sharing a room with the most disliked inmate- and the man who had his bed before just happened to have been murdered. It’s up to Tom to solve the crime.
I thought this was a rich novel, full of weird and wonderful characters- apparently some people elected to stay in the Marshalsea after their debt was paid in order to run businesses; there was a barber’s, a coffee house, a pub and the interestingly named chop house ‘Titty Doll’s’ (!)- as well as some more heartbreaking stories of those unable to purchase a life of relative luxury on the Master’s Side. Everything has its price in the Marshalsea, even life.
Although it took me a while to get into the novel, I really enjoyed it and the twist wasn’t completely obvious, which was brilliant; all too often the whodunnit is signposted way too early.
If you enjoy your historical fiction to have a social conscience, this could be the next novel on your to read list.