Ahead of the publication of The Silver Collar, bestselling creator of the Thomas Hawkins novels Antonia Hodgson updates us all on her antihero’s story so far…
The Silver Collar is the fourth book in the Thomas Hawkins series. I began researching book one, The Devil in the Marshalsea, ten years ago. I had this idea for a crime novel set in the 1720s, featuring a young man, charming but reckless, who had lost his way. ‘Tried being good, tried being bad. Failed at both,’ I wrote in my notebook.
Where might he end up? I wondered. A debtors’ prison, perhaps? And so the journey began.
When we first meet Tom he has just won a fortune at the gaming tables. Instead of going home to pay off his debts, he stays out celebrating. An exasperated friend tells him he has ‘the luck of the devil’. Tom corrects him. It wasn’t luck, it was skill.
A fatal error. Tom doesn’t realise how fortunate he has been, or how quickly he can fall. When he’s robbed of his purse on his way home, everything is stripped away. (Almost literally. They leave his breeches.)
Thrown into the infamous Marshalsea gaol, Tom is forced to share a cell with Samuel Fleet, aka ‘the Devil’. As death stalks the prison, Tom knows he will be next. For the first time in his life, he has to fight to survive.
Along the way he befriends Kitty Sparks. Kitty is more than Tom’s match, having been educated and protected by Fleet. She will become the most important thing in Tom’s life – though he doesn’t realise it yet. (Idiot.)
Tom emerges from hell with a new perspective on life, luck and love. Sadly, he throws most of these lessons away in The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins.
Restless, and looking for easy work, he makes a deal with a mysterious underworld figure. What appears to be a straightforward job is actually a trap, involving powerful figures at court. At the same time, Tom’s public feud with a belligerent neighbour takes a dark turn when the man is found brutally murdered. And Tom’s nemesis, Sir John Gonson, is determined to see him hang for it…
As there is a book three and – ta-da! – a book four, I suppose I am not spoiling things by saying Tom survives, just. But he is left in debt to none other than Queen Caroline, who packs him off to Yorkshire in A Death at Fountains Abbey.
This deadly mission changes everything. Previously, Tom has put his own life at risk and faced the consequences. This time, he almost loses Kitty and his ward, Sam. Freeing himself from his debt to the queen, he vows to stay out of trouble, and this time he means it.
And so we find him at the beginning of book four – living happily with Kitty and trying to nudge Sam on to the right path (good luck with that).
Unfortunately, trouble has a way of finding Tom, even when he’s trying to stay out of its way. And he has so much more to lose, these days.
The Silver Collar is a dark story, with evil at its heart. But it is also about friendship and community. Tom began his adventures alone, estranged from his family, abandoned by his so-called friends. Despite the trials and tragedies he must face in The Silver Collar, he ends it a richer man. Even if, this time, his purse is empty.
The Silver Collar is published by Hodder & Stoughton in hardback, ebook and audio on 6th August.