Devil in the Marshalsea & Ella in Bloom

Home sick with an upper respiratory infection, I managed to read two books.  The Devil in the Marshalsea is this month’s read at the Kindle English Mystery Club.  I picked up my copy from the library and so it was bumped to the top of my TBR pile.

The Devil in the Marshalsea is a murder mystery set in the mid 1700s in the infamous Marshalsea Gaol.  I really don’t know a great deal about the time period or the  debtor’s prison and I found this fascinating reading.  Pretty much the entire book with a few pages as exceptions takes place within the confines of the Gaol.  There is a large cast of characters, very Dickensian-like in the local color they provide for the book.  A wonderfully developed sense of place (particularly in reference to the smells and sights of the prison).  The author does a good job immersing the reading in the horrific world of the Marshalsea.

The premise is that a murder, initially deemed a suicide, takes place in the Marshalsea, and now a young man, Tom Hawkins, whose debts and misfortunes have caught up with him is sent there.  He is given an opportunity to earn release if he can discover what is going on surrounding the death of the Captain.  The story is fast paced with everything happening within short periods of time.  There are lots of suspects and red herrings, political intrigues/corruption and questionable motives which kept me guessing until the end.  Very enjoyable historical mystery!

Ella in Bloom is a book I received for free in exchange for a fair review from BEA.  This would best be described as a family drama, I suppose.  A story of two sisters, a favourite child and a lesser.  The golden child, Terrell, dies and Ella, the not-so-golden, somewhat disgraced, child is left to try to fill in for her parents.  The book’s prose is well written, and the epistolary   elements are nicely done as well.  I just found the plot lines all a little over-wrought perhaps or maybe just dated?  It seems like the current events should have been taking place 30 years earlier to make more sense to me.

The sisters, Terrell and Ella, both seemed to live their lives in terror of their mother.  Ella fled and lied from a distance and Terrell maintained a perfect picture facade in the hometown.  The father seemed okay with the mother’s unreasonableness and the resultant disconnect in the family or he just didn’t care enough to make any effort.  The mother’s “secret shame” and reaction and attitudes just seemed over the top considering it is supposed to be taking place in the late 80s or early 90s.  I just couldn’t really connect to the plot here.

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