London, 1811. Along the twisting streets of Wapping, bounded by the ancient Ratcliffe Highway and the modern wonder of the London Dock, many a sin is hidden by the noise and glory of Trade. But now two families have fallen victim to foul murder, and Charles Horton, a senior officer of the newly formed Thames River Police Office, must deliver revenge to a terrified populace.
Plymouth, 1564. Young Billy Ablass arrives in the busy seaport with the burning desire of all young men: the getting and keeping of money. Setting sail on a ship owned by Queen Elizabeth herself seems the likely means to a better life. But the kidnapping of hundreds of human souls in Africa is not the only cursed event to occur on England's first official slaving voyage. On a sun-blasted Florida islet, Billy too is to be enslaved.
Based on the true story of the gruesome Ratcliffe Highway murders, The English Monster is a breathtaking voyage across centuries, from the Age of Discovery to the Age of Empire, illuminating what happens to Britain as she gains global power but risks losing her soul.
21 JUNE 1585
The ancient road began at the Tower and ran east to west along a terrace of gravel. To the east it disappeared into the flat treeless horizon of the estuary, merging into the earth just as the earth merged into the sea at the muddy edge of England.
As it left London, this road, which in only a few years would become a highway, formed the northern boundary of a dreary region of swampy land. The great river, as it bent south then north again, formed the southern edge of this semicircle of marshland. It had been drained and flooded, drained and flooded half a dozen times in the previous fifty years, while England burned Protestants then Catholics and then Protestants again. This place could not seem to decide if it was of the river or of the earth. The ancient name for the misbegotten half-land was Wapping. No one could remember where the name came from.
In recent years small wharves and little clusters of houses had appeared along the riverbank at Wapping. The rich...
Shepherd's devilishly clever debut isn't just a swashbuckler, nor is it just an historic thriller or a police procedural or even an allegory with a soupçon of magical realism. No. It's an elegant admixture of several genres and a smashing feat of derring-do that roller coasters between the 16th and 19th centuries. And although there is a satisfying conclusion, it is less important than the ride. With all its twists and turns, there is a singular free fall that clinches the story, making the whole thing exceptional.
(Reviewed by Donna Chavez).
Full Review (881 words).
Shepherd's English monster is a being that has no conscience, no soul. In Jewish lore such a creature is called a golem. It has the appearance of a man but is a nonhuman creation brought into being by magic. Both the concept and the word date back to the Old Testament and the Talmud (the book of Jewish law). The word is variously translated as "unformed," "imperfect" and "shapeless mass," and is often used to indicate a clumsy and brutish being. Before he was infused with a soul, the Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin, Folio 38b) describes Adam as "kneaded into a shapeless husk" of dust - in essence, a golem.
The idea of a golem, or a monster with superhuman strength that could be conjured and ordered to do one's bidding, has held certain ...
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