It is 1728 and all is good at last for Thomas ‘Half-Hanged’ Hawkins, the one time minor aristocrat, and Kitty Sparks, the owner of the rather disreputable The Cocked Pistol bookshop. But they are not to be left in peace. Kitty is forced to give up the bookshop while Thomas is attacked in the street and discovers that there is a price on his head. Neither of them can understand the reason why but it’s not long before they begin to associate events with the arrival in London of the enigmatic, cunning Lady Vanhook, who has returned from Antigua with her favourite slave girl, Affie, by her side, a silver collar clasped around the girl’s neck.
The Silver Collar is the fourth novel in Antonia Hodgson’s wonderful Tom Hawkins series, set in Georgian London and beyond. It’s been a few years now since the last novel and so I was really excited to read this. You don’t need to have read the earlier books. We’re soon reminded of what’s happened before, but I do recommend them. The Silver Collar is my favourite of the four. I love Tom and Kitty. These are witty books and the relationship between the two main characters is so alive and vigorous (in more ways than one), partly due to the author’s sparkling dialogue. Tom and Kitty make me laugh but, in this novel especially, they made me cry, too. I have missed them!
The Silver Collar tells a fantastic story – it’s an intense, action-packed drama and it is driven by sinister and actually pretty terrifying Lady Vanhook. It’s hard for me to remember another fictional villain that I have hated quite as much as this one. But she’s also a scene stealer. Through her we learn much more about our heroine Kitty and so the reader is drawn to her even more.
These books are full of brilliant characters. I love Sam, the young boy from a family of gangsters who has sort of adopted Tom as a surrogate father. His mother, the gang leader, is hysterical (and especially entertaining in the audiobook). But there are new characters in The Silver Collar who leave a long and lasting expression – the young slave girl Affie and her father Jeremiah Patience whose story is utterly horrific. Slavery adds another dimension to the novel, a warning that there was far more to Georgian England than wigs, debauchery and gangs. The role of women in this society is also considered. Kitty, herself, is extremely vulnerable no matter how tough she thinks it is.
Parts of The Silver Collar are upsetting to read, especially, but not only, the sections in which Jeremiah recounts his story. But it is well worth the emotion of reading it and I must say that the ending is fantastic. This is a very good novel indeed, by an author who writes beautifully and with such empathy for her characters and this period, but who is also very witty and always entertaining. It is also a pageturner! I was engrossed in the audiobook, which is read so well by Joseph Kloska. And, as I mentioned earlier, if you haven’t read the earlier books, you really must! The first is The Devil in the Marshalsea (I don’t have a review up for this as I read it as part of judging for an HWA award, for which is was shortlisted).