The Silver Collar by Antonia Hodgson

It’s been a four-year wait but The Silver Collar, the fourth book in Antonia Hodgson’s wonderful Thomas Hawkins series, is here at last. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting ‘Half-Hanged’ Hawkins and Kitty Sparks, this book does work as a standalone, but I would recommend going back to the beginning and starting with The Devil in the Marshalsea.

The Silver Collar is set in 1728. After their adventures in Yorkshire in the previous novel, Tom and Kitty are back in London running Kitty’s bookshop, The Cocked Pistol – ‘an establishment of such ill repute that a brief glance through its window could tarnish the soul‘. The couple still aren’t married and their relationship is still affectionate but stormy – and there are those who seem to want to drive them apart, such as Sir John Gonson, Tom’s old enemy, and the sinister Lady Vanhook.

When Tom is attacked in the street one day by men who appear to be intent on killing him, he is saved only by the intervention of his young ward Sam Fleet, son of an infamous underworld villain. With Sam’s help, Tom begins to investigate, determined to find out who was behind the attack, but while he is preoccupied, Kitty is facing problems of her own and has become reacquainted with a very unwelcome face from her past.

The Silver Collar also introduces another intriguing character by the name of Jeremiah Patience. Jeremiah’s story unfolds in the middle of the book, incorporating escaped slaves, a plantation in Antigua and a little girl forced to wear a silver collar – this was interesting, sensitively written and certainly very topical, but I felt it was a bit too similar to other storylines I’ve been coming across in historical fiction recently. I did like Jeremiah, though, and had a lot of sympathy for his situation.

It was also lovely to meet Tom and Kitty again after such a long wait. Tom, who narrates most of the novel in the first person, is such a great character – a lovable rogue who is always trying his best to reform himself but never quite managing it. In this book, though, his associations with other disreputable figures such as Sam Fleet and his mother Gabriela prove to be very helpful! Kitty is another strong character; I’ve enjoyed getting to know her over the course of the four books and I keep forgetting how young she still is. I didn’t think the parts of the book written from her perspective worked as well as Tom’s, though; they are written in the second person, which always feels a bit strange, I think.

This book is less of a mystery novel than the previous one (A Death at Fountains Abbey); historical thriller is probably a better description. However, we do see Tom keen to put the mystery-solving skills he gained in Yorkshire to good use by establishing a sort of Georgian-style detective agency. Sadly, he becomes too distracted by his own problems to spend much time worrying about other people’s, but maybe this is something that will be returned to in a future book.

I’ve enjoyed all four books in this series, including this one, but I still think The Devil in the Marshalsea was the best. Such a high standard was set with that book, it was always going to be hard for the others to live up to it. They are all entertaining reads, though, and I will look forward to a fifth book and finding out what the future has in store for Tom and his friends.

Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

This is book 7/20 from my 20 Books of Summer list.

A Death at Fountains Abbey by Antonia Hodgson

a-death-at-fountains-abbey I first met Thomas Hawkins two years ago when I read The Devil in the Marshalsea, a murder mystery set within the confines of a debtors’ prison in eighteenth century London. Last year Antonia Hodgson brought him back again for another adventure in The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins. And now we’re off to Yorkshire for the third book in the series – A Death at Fountains Abbey. Like the first two, this one could be read as a standalone, but I would still recommend reading all three in the correct order so that you can watch the characters develop throughout the series and avoid spoiling any aspects of the previous mysteries for yourself.

The plot of this third novel is inspired by real historical events and real historical figures, including John Aislabie, the Chancellor of the Exchequer who was held responsible for the South Sea Bubble of 1720, a financial disaster in which thousands of people were ruined. It’s to Studley Royal, Aislabie’s estate in Yorkshire, that Tom Hawkins is sent on a mission for Queen Caroline (wife of George II). The Queen wants Tom to investigate some death threats received by the disgraced former Chancellor, while secretly searching for a hidden ledger which lists the names of several prominent public figures who were involved in the South Sea scandal.

On arriving at the estate, Tom immediately discovers a whole host of suspects, all of whom could have reasons for wanting Aislabie dead. To complicate things further, a young woman has recently arrived at Studley claiming that she is Aislabie’s long-lost daughter, believed to have been killed in a fire at his London home many years earlier. With the help of his lover Kitty (posing as his wife for the sake of appearances) and his young ward, Sam Fleet, Tom begins to investigate both the death threats and the whereabouts of the ledger, a search that will take him all over Studley Royal and neighbouring Fountains Abbey.

Tom Hawkins is a wonderful character; while he’s a bit of a scoundrel – and admits to being a bit of a scoundrel – he’s a decent person at heart and I can’t help liking him. His relationship with Kitty moves forward in this book and we also see a lot of Sam Fleet, the London gang leader’s son whom Tom is trying to educate and turn into a gentleman. I enjoyed the brief insights we are given into Sam’s own thoughts and feelings, showing how desperately he wants to feel valued and loved – and thankfully both Tom and Kitty are beginning to see the good in him. There are some great secondary characters in this novel too, many based on real people.

As for the mystery itself, it’s quite a good one. There were plenty of clues from the start, but it would have been difficult to put them together correctly without knowing certain facts which are withheld until much later in the novel. I certainly wasn’t able to work out what was going on before the truth was revealed.

I enjoyed this book, but it does feel slightly different from the first two Thomas Hawkins novels. The London prisons, slums and taverns which provided the setting for The Devil in the Marshalsea and The Last Confession have been replaced here by the fresh air and open spaces of the Yorkshire countryside. I have visited Studley Royal and Fountains Abbey twice (they are now National Trust properties) and this really added to the experience of reading the book as I could clearly picture the ruined abbey, the water gardens, the follies and the statues. I’m now hoping there will be a fourth book in the series and wondering where Tom’s adventures will take him next.

By the way, if you were expecting to see my monthly Historical Musings post today, I promise it will be coming soon!