For a French prisoner of war, there is only one fate worse than the gallows: the hulks. Former men-o’-war, now converted to prison ships, their fearsome reputation guarantees a sentence served in the most dreadful conditions. Few survive. Escape, it’s said, is impossible. Yet reports persist of a sinister smuggling operation within this brutal world – and the Royal Navy is worried enough to send two of its officers to investigate. But when they disappear without trace, the Navy, in desperation, turns to Bow Street for help. Chief Magistrate James Read offers his best man; a former soldier, as dangerous as the prey he hunts: Matthew Hawkwood.