Saturday, 25 July 2015
A howling mob bay for entertainment, the final jittering of the Hanged Man, as he, or she, is kicked from this world on the end of a rope. A terrible way to die, even worse in those days. This was prior to use of a drop that led to a faster death.In those days a man had to rely on his friends jumping up to pull him down so that the combined body weight would lead to a hastier exit from this world.Thomas Hawkins, on his way to an appointment with the hangman, narrates his last confession and hopes still for a last minute reprieve. One promised to him but the timing off which is causing no small amount of terror and tension for him as he rumbles backwards on a cart to that infamous location and a beckoning gibbet. Thomas Hawkins tale is in itself perhaps a metaphor for this last desperate journey, a winding twisting path through the gin soaked alleyways of a London soured by the corruption of human desperation and his own determination to tread his own path whilst trying to survive being under the thumb of evil men and women.The stews of London are where he chooses to make his home and it is there he finds fellowship and love possessed of a mercurial morality that adjusts as needed to the situation.All life hangs by a thread here and innocence is a commodity to be bartered for.From the darkest filthy back street hovel to the court of the king Antonia Hodgson brings it all vividly to life.You are never really sure up to the very last if you are reading the last words of a dead man and yet is this not the conceit that lies at the heart of every historical novel be it comedy, horror show or a tragedy(in the case of the life of Thomas Hawkins it is all these things.As all our lives are.)Every line uttered,every action taken, is an echo,the shadow of the dead.
It being a sort of last testament it has a frenetic energy one finds only in the most desperate of scenarios and it was an energetic roller coaster of a read..It felt like a one sitting read and that I was in the company of a very dangerous man who seemed destined one way or the other to die by the hand of another.He tells the story of his lewd life; the son of a country parson this was a man born to a life of opportunity and promise but driven by restless demons. For all that Thomas Hawkins knows where loves lies and he has rested his head in its bosom many a time.Yet he is a man who needs the spice of danger to feel worthy enough to rest there and his story is a collection of some very dark days. He navigates the stews of London like a toiler on the sea. It is a blood and shit splattered almost feral city where vice and virtue war with each in filthy corners never touched by the light of the sun. Antonia Hodgson never shies away from relating the nearness of every vice imaginable which hover with a proximity only ever accorded to rats. Depravity and a desire for the rum and uncanny are constant companions in this fast paced Penny Dreadful of a yarn that is also quite touching in its depiction of the lives of those who look for love and company in a world without mercy or pity.Despite the dirt,beneath the encrusted fitlth of the age, lie real people with real lives, real hopes and real dreams(not all of them good.) which the author brings alive for the time we spend in their company.
In the text we may not be supping with anything so exotic as panthers but we are guzzling ale with whores and gamblers and scoundrels.Kick back, drink a toast to them then get out of there as fast as your heels can carry you.
Me? I will be going looking for Antonia Hodsgson's first novel in this series The Devil In The Marshalsea.