I’ve been a huge fan of Antonia’s since I was spellbound by THE DEVIL IN THE MARSHALSEA, and so to see Thomas Hawkins and his various associates back for a third time is a real treat for me. Not least because this novel sees them transported away from the grimy, crime-riddled streets, gambling dens and chop houses of London to supposedly more gentile Yorkshire and Studley Hall and Fountains Abbey.
What this book, as with THE DEVIL IN THE MARSHALSEA and THE LAST CONFESSION OF THOMAS HAWKINS, does so brilliantly is bring in historical facts and real people – The South Sea Bubble and Lord Aislabie- to this twisty turny novel which never fails to surprise. From the nobility at Studley Hall to their servants, no one is quite who they seem to be. And in the novel you get a real sense of what the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ situation was like, As well as Georgian farming and game-keeping, and poaching out on the moors. I also loved Lady Judith’s jodhpurs and the fact that she refused to ride side-saddle, but that she could only ride like that within the grounds of Studley Hall for fear of the scandal it would cause. Things like this that highlight what we take for granted in the 21st century are realised here with intelligence and subtlety.
It’s hard to say much more without a spoiler, so I’ll end by saying that my two favourite characters feature brilliantly here. Sam Fleet, nephew of Tom Hawkins’ cellmate in Antonia’s debut novel, and Kitty, who here has to be referred to as Mrs Hawkins, once again for fear of scandal. They bring their London morals and means with them on the long and bumpy carriage ride up to Yorkshire (highlighting again that the journey would take 4 or 5 days rather than less than that in hours now) and I’m very glad that they do. The book wouldn’t be the same without them.
I’m very much looking forward to book four… And will be doing more investigation into the South Sea Bubble and its repercussions.