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The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd

The English Monster

by Lloyd Shepherd

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I am a bit torn since I liked one part of the book better than the other part. The other part was still good, but not for me. Let me explain:

In 1811 Charles Horton investigates the slaughter of two families. This was the part that was not for me. It's a good old detective story as he tries his best to find the murderer. The chase is on and he has new ideas that he tries. The Ratcliffe Highway murders are real but the authors takes his own twist to them. It's the beginning of real detective work.

The story jumps from the "present" to the past back and forth and we see the birth of the monster in question. Billy Ablass who in 1564 sails away to make his fortune to support his wife. But something happens along the way. It's a story about slave trade, pirates and all the horrible things going on as people fought to be on top. This was the story I liked the most as it was horrible, fascinating and interesting. It was darkness as he slowly loses a part of himself. It was adventure mixed with thriller and horror.

There you have it, some parts I just liked more then the rest as Billy's story was good. The detective part, well maybe I am just not that kind of reader. But I would love love to watch it on tv (of course then the Billy parts would be scary while now they are just the brutality of life then).

If you want a good detective story with a "paranormal" theme in it then this might be the book for you. ( )
  blodeuedd | Mar 2, 2016 |
  johnrid11 | Feb 14, 2016 |
A curious novel of two stories: in Elizabethan England, young Billy Ablass goes to sea to make his fortune alongside an equally young Francis Drake; and in 1811, London is rocked by the vicious murders of a household in Shadwell (the historical Ratcliff Highway murders).

For much of the novel it is unclear what these tales have to do with one another, but each are engrossing enough. Taking liberties with historical events is always a risk. I think Shepherd largely succeeds in spinning a good yarn with intriguing characters - this is an easy enough read that's well enough written.

However, I found the final collision of the two storylines and the climax of the murder investigation somewhat dissatisfying.

There are other missed opportunities: Francis Drake is an unnecessary bit of flair really, as is Henry Morgan, and the business with the Sheerness mutiny felt like it would have a more philosophical purpose than the rather blunt plot instrument it ultimately became.

I think this last point is my main beef with the book. It's an interesting glimpse into the Elizabethan slave trade and the pre-Peel policing of London, but I felt the author flirted with a more thoughtful piece on humanity, morality and mortality than he served up. That said, I'd certainly consider reading other books featuring Constable Horton.
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  imyril | Mar 21, 2015 |
Shepherd uses the real Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811 and the emergence of police detection as the core of this original and exciting thriller. He cleverly weaves this with a story from the very beginnings of the English slave trade in the 1560s to provide an exciting resolution with a supernatural twist. ( )
  pierthinker | Jan 19, 2014 |
Perferct review that I cannot improve on...


Non-spoiler alert! There is a dark twist – a spot of black-magical realism, if you like – about halfway 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 natural philosophy and moral turpitude to a story as rich in ideas as it is in intrigue.

To the plot then. Or to be precise, the plots. The first (chronologically, at least) concerns a young man named Billy Ablass who, in 1564, heads to Plymouth to seek his fortune at sea. Taken on by one John Hawkyns, Ablass soon discovers that not everything on board the Jesus of Lubeck is, well, above board.

As that story sets itself in choppy motion, chapters alternate between Ablass's mission and the Ratcliffe Highway murders so dutifully described in P D James and T A Critchley's 1971 true-crime book The Maul and the Pear Tree. The gruesome murder, in 1811, of Timothy Marr and his young family is replayed again here in graphic detail. Though the Age of Reason has America in its grip, policing in Britain is still a bewildering arrangement between local magistrates, parish watchmen and – in the newly thriving docklands of London's East End – waterman-constables.

Charles Horton is one of the latter, the eyes and ears of John Harriott, immortalised on his memorial stone as "progenitor of the Thames Police". Horton is a man with new ideas: Harriott can find only the words "detection" and "investigation" to describe what it is that Horton does. As the everyman cop applies such techniques to the Ratcliffe Highway murders, he pieces together a theory that will pit him against the Shadwell magistrates whose job it is to serve the guilty party up to the ravenous public.

So, what could possibly tie Britain's first authorised slave ship to a series of shocking murders some 250 years later? My lips are sealed. Soon, the Shadwell magistrates arrest and charge the hapless Irish itinerant John Williams, and Shepherd's analysis of the past is perceptive enough to draw parallels with current events (say, the Leveson inquiry): "Everyone felt that London's panic and fright had changed register, and had turned into a type of fascination. Here's the likely culprit, said the newspapers and magistrates. We've got him. Sleep easier in your beds. The bogey-man is under lock and key."

If all this sounds ambitious to the point of audacious for a debut novel, then suffice it to say that Shepherd pulls it off. Add (mostly) accurate biographical details from the lives of Francis Drake, Hans Sloane, Henry Morgan and Aaron Graham to a story already centred around the real-life characters of Harriott, Horton and Hawkyns, and 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.

( )
  jan.fleming | May 2, 2013 |
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London, 1811. The twisting streets of riverside Wapping hold many an untold sin. Bounded by the Ratcliffe Highway to the north and the modern wonders of the Dock to the south, shameful secrets are largely hidden by the noise and glory of Trade. But two families have fallen victim to foul murder, and a terrified populace calls for justice. John Harriott, magistrate of the new Thames River Police Office, must deliver revenge up to them and his only hope of doing so is Charles Horton, Harriot's senior officer. Harriott only recently came up with a word to describe what it is that Horton does. It is detection.… (more)

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