Author: James McGee
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 9780007320103
Genre: Historical Mystery


London, 1813: Bow Street Runner Matthew Hawkwood is summoned to a burial ground and finds the corpse of a young woman, murdered and cast into an open grave.

At first the death is deemed to be of little consequence. But when Chief Magistrate James Read receives a direct order from the Home Office to abandon the case, Hawkwood’s interest is piqued.

His hunt for the killer will lead him from London’s backstreets into the heart of a government determined to protect its secrets at all costs. Only Hawkwood’s contacts within the criminal underworld can now help.

As the truth behind the girl’s murder emerges, setting in motion a deadly chain of events, Hawkwood learns the true meaning of loyalty—and that the enemy is much closer to home than he ever imagined…


THE RECKONING is not a book for the faint of heart, nor anyone who doesn’t like animal cruelty, violence, or graphic action in a fight scene. That’s because author, James McGee, accurately portrays the gritty underbelly of early 19th century London, when Britain is at war with France, and the Napoleonic Wars raged across Europe.

This is McGee’s sixth novel in the Matthew Hawkwood series, but my first outing and not to be my last. The author skillfully makes this easy to read as a standalone, without the need to have read previous installments. Any references made to previous escapades and adventures are all told within the context of the story, and add to the over-all story and background of our erstwhile hero, Hawkwood. A man who’s as straight as an arrow, and happy to bend the wrong rules for the right reasons. Especially in pursuit of justice for a killers victims.

I thoroughly enjoyed the rich detail that McGee has woven into a tight tapestry of what life was like during this period, in English history. And loads us up with plenty of intrigue on any number of levels. Not just a murder mystery, with Officer Hawkwood trying to trace a killer with little or no clues to go on. This is also a political thriller, with plenty of insight to the inner workings of the government, or, I should say, a number of departments, and high society of the day. Specifically, the warped sexual proclivities of the upper echelon and their ilk.

It is McGee’s descriptions of this sordid world, that while repugnant, show us just how life was for so many—the struggle for survival on a daily basis, brutal and cutthroat. And yet, within this world there are moments of lighthearted banter, jovial comradeship, and small slither of light. It is not all darkness and gloom, not all pain and drudgery.

McGee also lightens the load with wonderfully drawn characters, Hawkwood may carry the bulk of the story, but the other characters are as well crafted and fully fleshed out. I specifically like Jago, a rapscallion of a man who is Hawkwood’s right hand man, and has Hawkwood’s back. Then there is James Read, the Chief Magistrate at Bow Street, and Hawkwood’s ‘boss,’ who is the ‘moral’ compass, and even Read’s clerk, Twigg, was someone you don’t soon forget, as he provided some droll moments of humour. Even the Coroner’s surgeon, Quill, in his ‘death’ house, provided a welcome chance for the author to provide us with some great banter back and forth.

With plenty of colourful, engaging characters, going up against the entrenched bureaucracy of Brooke, Addington and Saxby, and with some keenly written snappy dialogue, McGee weaves an excellent story to a very real backdrop of history. He combines plenty of action and yes, plenty of violence, to keep a reader turning the page. And for me, this was a real page turner. I read THE RECKONING over two days, sucking up and relishing every detail.

While I enjoyed this novel, I will admit it might not be to everyone’s taste. As I stated, there is plenty of violence within the context of the story, and in part, the details are a little on the grisly side—but never overly gory, at least, not for me. If you like your murder mystery with a historically accurate background, a bunch of well-shaded characters, and a lot of period action (pun intended) then you will probably enjoy this one as much as I did.

Rating: 9 / 10

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  1. December 4, 2019

    Sometimes i do wonder whether the dark underbelly of London really has changed so much since the 19th century… :/
    I love to see books that made such an impression on you, and i just made a note of this one as well. Ya never know, i may end up in historical fiction mood one day and won’t know what to do 😀 Can always refer to you then 🙂

    • Alexandra
      December 4, 2019

      Like you I haven’t always read this or that genre for, well, whatever reasons, but following a number of book bloggers has widened my appeal to reading a more varied selection. You still won’t get me reading an out and out romance or, heaven forbid, anything labelled literature. lol

      What I’ve found over the years is that a lot of what’s labelled this or that genre doesn’t always mean it’s that genre … if that makes sense. This has a historical setting, the players are fully entrenched in the era, but does that make it historical fiction, or a good old fashioned murder-mystery because of the plot? 😉

      • December 4, 2019

        Ah yes, makes sense.
        I started a book the other day, expecting it will be sci-fi (it was categorized like that). Well, it wasn’t. Not sure what it was. Just weird, basically and kind of like stream of consciousness stuff. Me no like dat 😀 😀

        • Alexandra
          December 4, 2019

          See, exactly my point. Not every novel fits neatly and nicely into a single genre, especially not these days. Better to assign more than one and a reader has a better understanding of what the book might be about, than say it’s SF and, eh, it’s just plain gibberish! 😉

          By the way, what was the book, or, do I have to wait for your review of it?

          • December 5, 2019

            Ha! I DNFd it. For now anyway. So i won’t do a review. It’s called The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Clare North. 😀

            • Alexandra
              December 5, 2019

              Okay, f*ck weird ass title to start with, and given what you said, not surprised you DNF it! I sometimes wonder how some of these novels find publishers.

  2. This would step on my heart, I don’t think it’s one for me either because of the animal cruelty. The rest of it, the historical setting sounds interesting though, I love to read about that era now too. Wonderful review Alexandra !

    • Alexandra
      December 3, 2019

      This was a rip roaring tale true to its era, Inge, so I wasn’t too surprised at the two rather graphic descriptions, but still, they are a little tough if you’re a big animal lover. So no, maybe not a great read for anyone with a big heart.

  3. Beware Of The Reader
    December 2, 2019

    Alexandra I think I’ll pass as I can’t stand animal cruelty!!!

    • December 3, 2019

      It wasn’t animal cruelty per se, Sophie, but two scenes were animals died. And all in context to the story and the era its set in. I just like to let people know so they’re not surprised if they go read this book from my recommendation/review and are unprepared.

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