Book Reviews

Book Review: The Reckoning


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 recalcitrant 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 killer’s 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 something of a political thriller, with plenty of insight to the inner workings of a 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 in high-end bordellos.

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 between the two men.

With plenty of colourful, engaging characters, going up against the entrenched bureaucracy with the likes 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 glued to their seat: including horse chases, pub brawls, pistol shoot-outs, and the occasional fisticuffs with an assortment of deadly weapons of the day. Be sure, blood is shed.

I read THE RECKONING over two days, sucking up and relishing every gritty, realistic detail.

So, 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 then you will probably enjoy this one as much as I did.

Rating: 9 / 10


  1. WOW! 9 of 10? Sounds like a great read! I’m not sure about the animal cruelty but I do appreciate an author who doesn’t try to make light of a time that was very intense! Great review!!

    • Thanks, Christina. It was a really good read, in between those few moments that were a bit on the gory side. Thankfully, they were few and far between, but still, intense.

  2. Well I respect an author describing everything as it is or rather was, repugnant and all but I don’t think I’ll be able to read it if there is animal cruelty. I have a sweet little heart and cry every time an animal or a kid is hurt!

    • Unfortunately, there is one scene in a cellar with animals fighting, which was gory, hence my warning, Sophie. It’s authentic to the day, and was a way of highlighting two secondary characters and what they were capable of. So maybe, not a read for you.

  3. I like your warning right at the start 🙂 I always enjoy a great banter in my read. Excellent review Alexandra!

    • Thanks, Jasmine. I wanted to make sure people are aware that this is a tough read on that level. But the author handles it well, and the banter between characters is the fun side; the sarcasm and droll wit very enjoyable.

  4. I really appreciate that warning. I’m afraid it’s not for me, even a hint at cruelty is enough to set me off. I’m also not a big fan of political plots in books tbh, we already do enough eye-rolling in real life here :-). I’m happy to hear you enjoyed it so much, a new author to add to your list then!

    • Indeed, Inge, as I stated, this isn’t going to be for everyone. It was, over all, a great read as I like this kind of historical murder mystery. But there are two or three scenes that I know will upset some.

      As for the political shenanigans? Oh I hear you, we get enough in real life without reading about other eras too. 😉

  5. What a great review Alexandra. And 9/10 sounds like a fantastic read. So happy for you, especially given the previous reading experience. 🙂

    I’m not sure how I would react when it comes to animal cruelty (thanks for highlighting that for us) as I tend to get really upset by it. Given it serves its purpose though, I may be able to get over it though. 🙂 Keeping it in mind as a future reading material. 🙂

    • Alexandra says

      Thanks, Vera. I really enjoyed the story as a whole, the characters were really intriguing, and the details were thoroughly engrossing, for me at least. The animal cruelty was part of that society, or the lower dregs of it, they could barely afford to feed themselves let alone their animals. So it was all in keeping with the story itself.

      I think you would be okay reading this but as always, so many books, so little time.

      • I’ve added it to my TBR list. I can stomach it as long as it serves a purpose and it seems this is indeed to draw our attention to that particular society rather than to shock up. You’ve convince me. 🙂 Looking forward to reading it…. when… that is another question of course but at least it’s on my list so I won’t forget about it. 🙂

        • The author isn’t out to shock, but he doesn’t hold back. There were some awful things done during this period, and that was just the way it was. The dog and animal fights were legendary. And that features here. So if you think you can breeze over those sections, then you might enjoy it. I like this kind of historically accurate novel full of the nitty details. They really set the scene.

  6. Based on the title i thought you read the book from the Niceville series, but this one also sounds pretty good!
    I totally don’t mind graphic storytelling, and violent stuff, and while it does make me cringe (as i should i guess), it does help setting the scene and atmosphere for sure.

    • Alexandra says

      Yeah, there are a number of books out at the moment with this, or a similar title, Norrie. This one is set amid the Napoleonic Wars, which pretty much tells you what to expect. And, as I said, everything is within context and isn’t to graphic or gory. I think you would love the characters! ☺️

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