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Posts Tagged ‘18-th century London’


There was a time when I would have said I wasn’t a fan of historical mysteries.  Luckily, that time has long passed because I’ve come to realize how exciting it is to be taken back a hundred or more years to learn about life in an earlier period.  Note that I didn’t say a simpler period, because I don’t think any age is really simpler than another–it’s just different.  And certainly London in the early part of the 18th century had many, many complex issues with which to deal.

The protagonist of The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins is, not surprisingly, Thomas Hawkins himself.  An aristocrat with an unfortunate addiction to gambling, when the novel opens he is in a cart on his way to the gallows.  He is convinced that a royal pardon will come in time; indeed, he has been promised such a pardon, but each turn of the cart’s wheel is bringing him closer to the hangman.  Crowds line both sides of the road, for it’s not every day that a gentleman is hanged; in fact, one hardly ever is.  But today may be the crowd’s lucky day, although that can hardly be said for Mr. Hawkins.

For the past three months, ever since his release from Marshalsea Prison for debt, Thomas has been living with the lovely and wealthy Kitty Sparks.  Thomas would like to marry her, or at least he sometimes thinks he would like to marry her, but Kitty isn’t having that, although she’s barred from many society houses because she’s sharing her roof with a man not her husband.  Under the laws of England at this time, once Kitty marries all her money and the profitable business she owns (a bookstore that surreptitiously sells pornographic literature) would be under her husband’s control.  So Thomas understands Kitty’s reluctance to become his wife.

Given Kitty’s somewhat unsavory background and Thomas’ connection with the underworld, it’s not surprising that the necessity of doing a favor for master criminal James Fleet puts Thomas on a dangerous path.  Before he can fully understand what has happened, Thomas is involved in a spy mission for Queen Caroline on behalf of her lady-in-waiting; interestingly, said lady is also the mistress of Queen Caroline’s husband, King George II.  As I said earlier, life in the past really wasn’t simpler.

At the same time, Thomas’ neighbor, the brutal Joseph Burden, is murdered.  Everyone on their street remembers only too clearly the fight between the two men earlier in the day, with Thomas attempting to break down Burden’s door.  And some of those people are only too glad to see Thomas taken off to Newgate Prison for the murder, guilty or not.

Antonia Hodgson has written a wonderful novel, filled with fascinating characters and a strong sense of history.  Although Thomas Hawkins is less than a perfect role model, it’s hard to be angry at such a charming rogue.  At least I couldn’t be–I was rooting for him to escape the gallows all the way through The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins.

You can read more about Antonia Hodgson at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.