Shepherd, Lloyd - 'The English Monster'
This absolutely outstanding historical, mystery thriller focuses on events that occur on the Isle-Of-Dogs in 1811 where some very gruesome murders are discovered. A whole family has been butchered in the most terrible way. The victims are the Marr family who are linen drapers and suppliers to the great ships that come and go out of the great dock at Wapping. Margaret Jewell, a servant girl, had been sent by Mrs Marr on an errand and on her return she discovered the terrible crimes. Both Mr and Mrs Marr had been killed and even their infant baby had been also despatched. The police of that time are involved in attempting to locate any clues and question all the witnesses to gather evidence of the crimes. Soon more crimes of similar savagery occur and the authorities are no clearer in getting a handle on who was responsible despite the arrest of dozens of suspects. The only man who has any idea is Charles Horton, the senior officer of John Harriott, magistrate of the new Thames River Police Office, he is trying in a limited way to attempt the new art of detection to discover the culprit(s).
This multi-faceted first book by Lloyd Shepherd also includes the adventures of young Billy Ablass in Plymouth of 1564 who has arrived with an introduction to Captain John Hawkyns and a huge desire to make enough money to set-up a pig farm with his young wife. Captain Hawkyns is about to set sail in a ship under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth to go to Africa where he hopes to kidnap lots of slaves and put them in the holds and take them to the West Indies and America for sale if they don't die on the journey. This he succeeds in doing and the cruelty the poor slaves are treated with is very humbling. They are counted every day and any sick or dead ones are just thrown over the side into the sea. The ship can then claim on its insurance for damaged cargo! Once they arrive in the Americas and West Indies and the slaves are sold, other merchandise is bought with the profits and brought back for sale in England. Events occur to Billy Ablass in the West Indies also, that effect him for the rest of his life.
The two stories alternate between 1811 and the sixteenth century from chapter to chapter which took me a considerable number of pages to get used to but after perhaps 100 or so I couldn't put the book down until the dramatic denouement.
This is an absolutely superb first book from this very gifted new author who has done exhaustive research and uses a lot of contemporary historical detail for the periods concerned and all the named individuals are real persons he traced in records of the time. Shepherd's clever combination of history and gripping crime fiction makes this book an absolutely compelling read. One just cannot fault the plotting of this story. The very meticulous level of detail of all the navel armaments and boats and general descriptions reminded me of books by authors such as Patrick O'Brian and the overall writing skill of this British author reminded me of similar work I've read in the past by authors such as C J Sansom or Bernard Cornwell. THE ENGLISH MONSTER was very captivating and I enjoyed it very much. I will certainly look out for further books by him in the future.
Terry Halligan, England