The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd

The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd

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. Plymouth, 1564. Young Billy Ablass arrives from Oxford armed only with a Letter of Introduction to Captain John Hawkyns, and the burning desire of all young men; the getting and keeping of money. For Hawkyns is about to set sail in a ship owned by Queen Elizabeth herself, and Billy sees the promise of a better life with a crew intent on gain and glory.

The kidnap and sale of hundreds of human beings is not the only cursed event to occur on England’s first officially-sanctioned slaving voyage. On a sun-blasted islet in the Florida Cays, Billy too is to be enslaved for the rest of his accursed days. Based on the real-life story of the gruesome Ratcliffe Highway murders, The English Monster takes us on a voyage across centuries, through the Age of Discovery, and throws us up, part of the human jetsam, onto the streets of Regency Wapping, policed only by Officer Horton.

The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd is one of those books that takes its time to hit home. Normally when I read a book if it hasn’t grabbed me by the first 50 or so pages I simply put it to one side and either forget it or attempt to pick it up and try again at a later date, in the hope that I see something different. However, although I found the beginning very slow there was something in the narrative that kept me turning the pages, that in itself doesn’t happen very often. On more than one occasion during the first 100 pages I considered throwing in the towel but time and time again the characters and the 16th century storyline sucked me back in and I continued.

Having finished the book I can quite happily affirm that I was justified in continuing for the tale Lloyd Shepherd tells is complex and the narrative intelligent and mesmerising. The pace, as I have already alluded to, is slow and really doesn’t intensify until the final passages when the speed is deliberate and necessary. The author wraps up this adventure well and leaves you wanting more with the final paragraph adding a little mystification and wonder to the prose in its finality. Looking back I do believe this was never meant to be a speedy read, the narrative weaves such an intelligent story that it begs to be consumed purposefully and sedately.

Clearly well researched the author blends real life characters such as Francis Drake, Queen Elizabeth, Welshman Henry Morgan and John Hawkyns – a man who will always hold the dubious honour with his part in the history of the slave trade – with an illuminating fictional story that holds you throughout. John Hawkyns’s voyage on a ship – owned by the reigning Queen Elizabeth – went in search of Black Gold or African Treasure; it’s a fascinating period in the book and one that held me captive throughout. Its sheer barbarity is shocking to say the least and the conditions Shepherd paints on and off the ship is frightening and unimaginable in this modern time.

Shepherd’s imagination is incredible as he paints a picture of ruthlessness, horror and a determination to increase one’s wealth no matter the cost. Told over two timelines – 16th and 18th century – it was the early period that intrigued me. Shepherd’s artistic license is at full stretch with his portrayal of a young sailor named Francis Drake was both chimerical and glorious. I just wanted to read more and more about the burgeoning relationship between Drake and Ablass with Drake showing young Ablass the ropes on his first voyage of discovery and education. Ablass clearly grows in stature and his development is for the most part down to Drake’s companionship and guile. Very clever stuff.

Although both time periods eventually become one I enjoyed reading Shepherd’s take on the famed Ratcliffe Highway murders in 1811 and those responsible for the vicious murders. In fact it made me want to read the true account of the slayings in Wapping. When an author manages to do that then you know he’s done something right!

God has left Wapping and The Devil has moved in, no man, woman or child is safe. The English Monster combines a narrative that -although sedentary is both intelligent and beguiling – entertains and captivates simultaneously. The murders will shock and the conditions appal but one thing it is certain to do and that is enthrall.

Published by Simon & Schuster The English Monster is available in Hardback & Kindle.

416 Pages

  • ISBN-10: 0857205358
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857205353

Also reviewed here Our Book ReviewsNotes of Life

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3 Responses to “The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd – Book Review”

  1. Nikki-ann says:

    I believe lloyd is working on a novel featuring a couple of characters from this one.

  2. maryom says:

    Having finished my review today, I’m now allowing myself to read yours. I’d agree it was slow to get into but I found the later storyline more gripping (despite knowing mostly what would happen thanks to Whitechapel).

  3. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the review. I really fancy reading this so it’s going on my list.

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