The English Monster (Charles Horton 1) Hardcover – 1 Mar 2012
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`A brilliantly imagined historical crime novel that evokes such creations as Shardlake and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell' - Sun
'The former journalist Lloyd Shepherd has researched the 1811 Ratcliffe Highway murders in Wapping for his The English Monster, a visceral debut which Simon & Schuster compares to Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell' -Independent on Sunday
`There is a dark twist - a spot of black-magical realism, if you like - about half way through Lloyd Shepherd's first novel that this reviewer has no desire to ruin for readers. In fact, so delicious and unexpected is this turn of events that it moves a book that is already part detective fiction, part historical novel and part pirate adventure into entirely new territory, adding themes of national philosophy and moral turpitude to a story as rich in ideas as it is in intrigue ... If all this sounds ambitious to the point of audacious for a debut novel, then suffice to say that Shepherd pulls it off ... The English Monster becomes as vivid an education as it is an entertainment. None of which is to mention that devilish twist in this tale' - Independent on Sunday
`The English Monster has a terrific idea at its core ... The book becomes a joyously, flamboyantly melodramatic scamper' - Guardian
`The English Monster is a riveting police procedural, a thrilling tale of life at sea, and an evocative piece of historical re-creation - all with an intriguing element of the fantastic that makes it irresistible. This is a novel that surprised and astounded me time and again' - Felix Palma, New York Times bestselling author of The Map of Time
`Lloyd Shepherd's novel, The English Monster, dramatizes one of the most shocking of all real life crimes, the Ratcliffe Highway Murders of 1811, in which two families were brutally slaughtered ... Shepherd really gets under the skin of Regency London ... An ambitious novel' - Daily Telegraph
`Marvellous; what a concept and what a feel he has for both eras - I can smell old Wapping when I read it. First-class stuff' - Robert Low, Author of The Oathsworn Series and The Kingdom Series
'This gripping novel puts a fantastical spin on the old tale of terror ... his yarn is rich in atmosphere, taking us into smoky riverside inns, candle-lit panelled parlours and out into the rough streets around London s docks ... the power of the novel lies in its symbolism' - Financial Times
'As much as it is detective novel, historical tract, and magical tale, The English Monster is also a polemic ... A truly superb book, succeeding on every level. As a crime novel, it is unorthodox but rewarding. As a work of historical fiction, it serves up an evocative dose of swashbuckling, crime fighting and social commentary. As polemic, it mercilessly slices open the British soul, and deserves to provoke not just thought but debate. This is a five-star triumph from a writer with skills that belie his debutant status; buy it, and buy it now' - bookgeeks.co.uk
'Shepherd's debut dramatizes one of the Regency period's most shocking real-life crimes - the Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811, in which two families were found brutally butchered in the East End. But this is not the novel's only subject. In a parallel plot Shepherd takes us back 250 years earlier to the picaresque tale of Billy Ablass, a piratical young man who goes to sea with Francis Drake and John Hawkins. Just how these stories are interlinked lies at the book's dark heart. In a richly atmospheric read, the real "monster" of the piece proves to be England's colonial and buccaneering past' - Independent , 29/9
'A novel that skilfully interlaces the real with the imagined' --Daily Express, 5/10
'This gripping novel puts a fantastical spin on the old tale of terror ... his yarn is rich in atmosphere, taking us into smoky riverside inns, candle-lit panelled parlours and out into the rough streets around London s docks ... the power of the novel lies in its symbolism' --Financial Times
'As much as it is detective novel, historical tract, and magical tale, The English Monster is also a polemic ... A truly superb book, succeeding on every level. As a crime novel, it is unorthodox but rewarding. As a work of historical fiction, it serves up an evocative dose of swashbuckling, crime fighting and social commentary. As polemic, it mercilessly slices open the British soul, and deserves to provoke not just thought but debate. This is a five-star triumph from a writer with skills that belie his debutant status; buy it, and buy it now' --bookgeeks.co.uk
About the Author
Lloyd Shepherd is a former journalist and digital producer who has worked for the Guardian, Channel 4, the BBC and Yahoo. He lives in South London with his family. The English Monster is his first novel.
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Top Customer Reviews
It is an enticing hook - macabre and gory - and sets the tone for a yarn which is part pirate adventure, part detective story, part historical fiction and part horror.
The novel is broadly set over two time periods, with two narratives.
In 1564 (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth) a flotilla of ships, captained by John Hawkyns, is on a clandestine trade mission; his crew includes Billy Ablass, a young man seeking his fortune.
In `the present' (1811), the local officials in Shadwell and Wapping bungle the investigation into a set of apparently motiveless killings, which will go down in history as the Ratcliffe Highway murders. The jaded magistrate, John Harriott, undertakes to catch the perpetrator, with the assistance of Waterman-Constable Charles Horton.
John Hawkyns's voyage, a real historical event, was the first official attempt to exploit what Shepherd chillingly refers to as `African treasure'. Rumours fly above and below decks as Billy Abless pieces together the purpose of their grizzly assignment. It will spawn a global trade, generating fabulous wealth for some - and unimaginable suffering for a great many others. The riches seem to be guaranteed; the question becomes whether Billy will return to his beloved wife, Kate, with his body and soul still intact?
Meanwhile, the 19th century murders take place in a filthy maritime metropolis on the Thames. Trade (with a capital `T') is the lifeblood of the riverside community now living in fear. Law and Order, by comparison, is still in its infancy.Read more ›
The genius behind this book is in the premise. These two stories are clearly connected, and the connection is pretty much handed to the reader about a third of the way through the book. But even then a distinct layer of mystery remains, and as the book progresses the reader essentially watches as to jigsaw pieces (being the two plot lines) edge closer together. The individuals stories are interesting, and the book did hold my attention with little difficulty.
The problem is that I'm not sure whether it actually worked by the end. The book is steeped in historical fiction but also possesses a clear supernatural edge. Yet the mystery has no supernatural element, and the murders fundamentally could be drawn from any crime novel (albeit they did actually happen and are clearly shocking in themselves). As a result I just didn't feel like the detective story ended up clicking quite right with the far more fantastical pirate story, as skilfully as the plot was constructed. For all the entertainment value that the book provided to me as I was reading it, when I put it down I just didn't quite feel as satisfied as I should have been.
Yet it is difficult to criticise Shepherd with any degree of force for this, because as a debut novel The English Monster is an ambitious breath of fresh air, and is the sort of book that should be encouraged. As such I recommend it, even if I can't quite shake the fact that I wasn't wholly satisfied by it when all was said and done.
The English Monster paints a murky picture of Britain's maritime history, there's a real sense of how the streets of around London's burgeoning docklands would have felt at the time. There are lots of historical elements woven into the fiction and there is a pretty comprehensive author's note to explain what is more fact than fiction and vice versa, just in case you keep putting the book down to google names and events. It is not straight historical fiction so history purists may want to back away now. It's hard to explain this novel without spoilers but it will help to keep an open mind that something other may be going on. I think the author has hinted enough to this fact in interviews that it will not be too big of a spoiler on my shoulders.
Based on the real life Ratcliffe Highway murders, it also highlights the huge difference between the early days of policing and what we know now. The city-based police did not care at all about solving crimes and were most likely to arrest criminals caught in the act or if they conveniently fell at their feet. Don't expect a riveting historical police procedure because, in all seriousness, they were no procedures. This is itself is a fascinating facet of the novel.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A great start to an excellent series of three (so far) intriguing historical crime/mystery/thriller novels. Highly recommended - as are the others in the series.Published 5 months ago by Paul Colnaghi
This is not a page turner. I found it rather turgid, wordy and slow. I was hoping to add Mr Shepherd one of my new writers but that's not going to happen. Read morePublished 8 months ago by eamon cowman
It took a while for me get into the book but on the whole it wasn't so bad. However - I have just read the second one in the series (The Poisoned Island) which helped me understand... Read morePublished 11 months ago by B. A. Griffiths
This is dire. The two plots clash crudely in style. The characters are wooden and two-dimensional and the women seem to be there only to suffer and gossip. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Irresponsible aunty
Strangely written and designed plot but very entertaining. Pity the main charcater wasn't really given centre stage and this explains a weakness in the storyline. Read morePublished 15 months ago by lovereading