Critical reaction to The English Monster
Some nice people have said some nice things about The English Monster:
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.
In a feat of perfectly maintained tone and tension, this sinister, fine-grained novel takes as its starting point the Ratcliffe Highway murders, a real series of crimes in 1811 in London. Shepherd evokes their seedy, maritime milieu with thorough effectiveness, atmospherically framing the brutal crimes.
Booklist (starred review)
His achievement, in presenting a panorama which stretches from the beginnings of the Elizabethan era to the Regency period, is undoubtedly an impressive one. The English Monster is an original, imaginative investigation into some of the most disturbing aspects of the nation’s history.
Times Literary Supplement
A joyously, flamboyantly melodramatic scamper
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.
This gripping novel puts a fantastical spin on the old tale of terror.
If you like your historical fiction with a mighty twist, want to know more about London in the early 19th Century, or simply enjoy pacey but thoughtful fiction, the English Monster is up there with the best.
This is not simply a crime novel though. The English Monster has fingers in several genres but transcends them all. Actual historical figures appear, against the backdrop of genuine historical events. In that respect, The English Monster could be said to be a work of historical fiction. However, incorporating, as it does, a dose of magical realism, it avoids such simple categorisation. Given its often macabre subject matter, there is a case for calling it horror fiction, but then, who but Shepherd’s marketing team actually cares? This is a cracking read for fans of any of the above genres, and still more besides.
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.
A brilliantly imagined historical crime novel that evokes such creations as Shardlake and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
The Sun Picks of the Year 2012
A festering and fulsome tale that zips along very satisfyingly
Shepherd really gets under the skin of Regency London….this is an ambitious novel.
The Daily Telegraph
Although centuries apart, there are many similarities to draw between the underworld of eighteenth century London and the secrets of England’s sixteenth century voyages of exploration, and Shepherd tells both stories in a fantastically cinematic style. The novel’s genre is often indefinable – veering from history to fantasy, from detective fiction to pirate adventure but each event is enriched with impressively vivid detail.
With two separate narrative strands which start out as being centuries apart before gradually merging into an explosive climax, Lloyd Shepherd’s debut novel is at first glance a relatively straight-forward criminal mystery. But, do not be fooled. This compelling tale is something more unique than that
Essie Fox, author of The Somnambulist, on Goodreads
This is an absolutely superb first book from this very gifted new author who has done exhaustive research and uses a lot of contemporary historical detail for the periods concerned and all the named individuals are real persons he traced in records of the time. Shepherd’s clever combination of history and gripping crime fiction makes this book an absolutely compelling read. One just cannot fault the plotting of this story.
The English Monster marks the highly impressive debut of former journalist and digital producer Lloyd Shepherd. Technically at least, the book is a historical novel set as it is in the 19th and 16th Centuries, but it hardly feels like that due to a combination of the innovative structure, the pacing of the investigative elements of the story and the contemporary resonance of Wapping itself.
It is an enticing hook – macabre and gory – and sets the tone for a yarn which is part pirate adventure, part detective story, part historical fiction and part horror….readers who enjoyed ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind will find plenty on this voyage to appal and intrigue them
Katie Ward, author of Girl Reading, on her blog
It has one of the best opening chapters (acting as a prologue) I’ve ever read. Two happy thoughts came to me immediately: this man can really write and this is going to be exciting.
The English Monster brings to mind some quintessential 19th century novels and novelists—there’s a little bit of Oscar Wilde, and a little bit of Wilkie Collins, and a little bit of Bram Stoker. With the social criticism, particularly of the justice system, The English Monster might even be likened to Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.
But hold on – that is only one of the tales in this odd mash-up of historical fiction. The second story, set some 250 or so years prior, is about piracy, commerce, slave trading, and empire. The most apparent ties between the two stories are the location (the docks of Wapping) and the supernatural legacy of evil that lingers through the generations and haunts the residents there. Whether taken as one epic morality tale, or viewed as two separate stories, each is rivetting. Reading this complete novel feels like getting two great stories in one. Sort of like Amistad intercut with Sweeney Todd.