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The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd, narrated by Steven Crossley
Based on the real-life story of the gruesome Ratcliffe Highway murders, The English Monster takes us on a voyage across centuries.
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.
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London, 1811. The twisting streets of Wapping hold many an untold sin. Bounded by the Ratcliffe Highway to the north and the Dock to the south, shameful secrets are largely hidden by the noise of Trade. But two families have fallen victim to foul murder, and a terrified populace calls for justice.
The English Monster is an extraordinarily rich mixture of real and imagined characters spanning some 250 years from 1564, when Billy Ablass, a young Oxfordshire fortune-hunter, joins a fleet of ships in Plymouth commanded by Admiral John Hawkins bound for the new world via west Africa, to 1812, when river constable Charles Horton identifies the Ratcliff Highway murderer. So what’s the connection between Tudor England’s first slave-trading mission and a Georgian London sleuth? To give away any hint of the fantastic plot would ruin the book, and that would be a pity.
THE GUARDIAN, Sue Arnold’s Audiobook Choice
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