Summary and book reviews of The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd

The English Monster

or, The Melancholy Transactions of William Ablass

By Lloyd Shepherd

The English Monster
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  • Paperback: May 2012,
    432 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Book Summary

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.

Paperback original

Chapter 1
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...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

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 Members Only (881 words).

Media Reviews
Booklist

Starred Review. Sometimes reminiscent of such serial-killer rescued histories as Death in the City of Light (2011), especially in its focus on the pioneering detective work surrounding the murders, this novel manages to marry such nonfiction influences with its supernatural solution with gravity as well as drama.

Booklist

Starred Review. Sometimes reminiscent of such serial-killer rescued histories as Death in the City of Light (2011), especially in its focus on the pioneering detective work surrounding the murders, this novel manages to marry such nonfiction influences with its supernatural solution with gravity as well as drama.

Times Literary Supplement (UK)

Intelligently explores the tendency of man to be invigorated, even transported by death… The English Monster is an original, imaginative investigation into some of the most disturbing episodes of the nation's history.

The Sun (UK)

A brilliantly imagined historical crime novel.

Independent on Sunday (UK)

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.

Author Blurb Essie Fox, author of The Somnambulist
A book of remarkable scope and imagination.

Author Blurb Felix Palma, New York Times bestselling author of The Map of Time
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.

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Golem as Jewish Legend and Literary Device

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.

illustration of 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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