The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

In my blog post about The Martian I warned about pre-judging books because they’re from a genre you might not normally read.


It’s a lesson I learned from a book I read a short while before I read The Martian, when I read The Devil in the Marshalsea.


I think I’ve said on here before that I don’t really like books set in the past. If I haven’t said it, then I meant to.


The Devil in the Marshalsea, Daughter and The Martian are all books from the Richard and Judy Book Club’s Autumn 2014 selection. This is where I get a bit work-y, so forgive me, please.


My job means I get to work on promoting this Book Club in our stores, which means I get to hear a lot about each of the books, including first hand what Richard and Judy think about them when they’re recording the podcasts for the series.


I was trying to read as many of the books prior to the filming day as possible, or at least a bit of as many of them as I could. I figured I’d start with Devil in the Marshalsea because, being a historical novel it was the one I was going to enjoy the least.


Well, I got that wrong, didn’t I?


I worked out a while back that the reason I don’t like historical novels is because often it feels like the author is showing off everything they’ve discovered while researching.


They go into far too much detail about the world their characters inhabit – they either do it in a third person narrative, which ends up being long paragraphs of just descriptive text before the characters even turn up.


Or, even worse, in a first person narrative, the main character wonders around supplying remarkably insightful comments about the political situation of the time or else it’s a surprise they’re not walking into things because they’re so busy describing everything in tiny, tiny detail.


Take any historical novel, lift out a paragraph and ask yourself – if this was set in the present time would anyone really have that much conscious thought about a lamppost? Probably not – yet, it seems a perfectly normal thing to do in any book set pre-WWII


BUT – my point is, that in this book Antonia Hodgson does something quite remarkable. She puts a simple author’s note at the beginning to give a little context about the world we’re visiting – and then she just gets on with the plot – which turns out to be quite a wonderful little murder mystery.


Anything else I might say would possibly ruin the plot, but a handy little hint to anyone who does now read it is to remember the rule about any murder mystery. Don’t try to work out who the murderer was, work out why the victim was murdered in the first place.