The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
A murder mystery set in one of London's most notorious prisons in the early eighteenth century, The Devil In The Marshalsea, is full of colourful characters and carefully researched historical background.
When Tom Hawkins, the central character, is imprisoned on account of his debts, it looks as if he will die in jail until he is presented with the faintest possibility of salvation. If he can discover who murdered the rakish Captain Roberts, whose bed he now occupies, his release will be assured. Unfortunately, the captain's murder is just the first link in a long chain of corruption, blackmail and savagery.
The mood of the novel veers between humour and high melodrama. For me, however, the author is too fond of lacing the style with foreshadowings of the 'If I had only known what lay in wait for me' variety.
It works hard to be entertaining but in the end I didn't really care about the characters enough. Though drawn with Dickensian vividness, they are always at the mercy of the highly-engineered plot and psychological realism is too readily sacrificed for the next dramatic twist.