Lloyd Shepherd’s third novel blends crime fiction and the supernatural with the same skill as his previous two…. a satisfyingly rich and readable brew. The Sunday Times
It’s 1814 and the streets of London’s Covent Garden are at the centre of a dark trade, enticing rich and poor alike with a cocktail of gin and beer and sex.
Behind their own fashionable private doors in the surrounding parishes a group of aristocratic young men are found murdered, all of them wearing the mask of a satyr, all of them behind locked doors with no signs of entry.
Constable Charles Horton’s investigation into these violent crimes begins, quite by chance, at Thorpe Lee House in Surrey, where accusations of witchcraft have swept the village.
What connects these broken London men, savage with the pursuit of pleasure, and a country village awash with folklore and talk of burning witches?
The answers lie, yet again, under lock and key, in a madhouse for the deranged, where Horton’s wife Abigail seeks refuge from her disordered mind. In this world of witchcraft and madhouses, whores and aristocrats, it’s a savage magic indeed that holds its victims in its thrall.
My brother and I made a video taster of Savage Magic, walking the streets of Covent Garden. Have a look, and a listen.
Some of the nice things people have said about Savage Magic
A superbly creepy supernatural thriller…. Shepherd has a talent for creating atmospheres that chill the spine, yet his historical knowledge is bottomless. Perfect reading for a cold night.
The pages of Savage Magic are thronged with whores, gypsies, mad-doctors and ruffians. It’s splendid entertainment, delivered, despite the echoes of Dickens and Wilkie Collins, with a crisp, modern flourish.
The Independent on Sunday
Lloyd Shepherd’s third novel, Savage Magic, blends crime fiction and the supernatural with the same skill as his precious two. Shepherd’s recurring character Charles Horton, a constable in the Thames river police, is dispatched to Surrey to investigate reported witchcraft in a mansion. Meanwhile his troubled wife, temporarily incarcerated in a private madhouse, is fascinated and horrified by a fellow inmate’s apparent power to force others to do her will. Hallucination-inducing plants, a woman returned from Australia with knowledge of Aboriginal magic, and a club of decadent noblemen called the Sybarites, who, one by one, meet violent ends, are all thrown into the mix as Shepherd produces a satisfyingly rich and readable brew.
The Sunday Times
This is a police procedural, but it’s set so early in the concept of police procedure that the framework is fluid and unset. As much as the rich, relished humanity, we are given an insight into the birth of the modern detective: young Jealous (brilliant name), the leg-man – frequently the hop-on-a-horse-and-deliver-an-urgent-message man – surely has a vivid future ahead of him, as a finder of motives and solver of crimes.
And this is a historical novel: another of those where the sense of time and place feels absolutely, entirely *right*. Andrew Taylor can do this, and AL Berridge, and here, Lloyd Shepherd creates a world without anachronism, peopled by humane, tender, ugly, beautiful, soulful, desperate, and above all, passionate people. I am so, so glad that I live in the 21st century, not the 19th, but if I have to go back there and witness it in all its glorious horror, this is the company I would choose.
In essence this is a locked room mystery, but one transported back into the early 1800s, when superstition and jealousy could divert any investigator. The book does not feel or read like a reimagining of other books. It is a thrilling, superbly written story, in which the characters remain consistent and true to their situations, and the plot draws the reader in at every fresh development.
Reading Savage Magic, and Lloyd Shepherd’s other novels, is an engrossing experience. I can’t think of another writer who can immerse the reader so fully in atmosphere, mixing horror so well with historical fiction. While this can be dark and frightening, often disturbing, it is immensely rewarding and encourages the reader to re-examine history with fresh and open eyes.
Savage Magic is another wonderful mystery in Lloyd Shepherd’s signature mix of history and supernatural…. I very much like that Abigail has a larger part to play in events. And, who knows, maybe in future she’ll be even more involved with her husband’s cases.
If magic in your murder isn’t really your thing don’t let this put you off. Savage Magic is also a historical novel that captures a world where old superstitions mingle uneasily with the dawning of a more modern age of policing. There are vivid descriptions drawing you into the sights, sounds and smells of a London where the upper echelons of society conduct their glittering social lives alongside the prostitutes and pimps who haunt the seedier side streets.
Another atmospheric, historical tale from Lloyd Shepherd set against an oppressive backdrop of a less than savoury London.
There is a rich and sophisticated plot that grips the imagination. I enjoyed this book immensely but don’t expect a comfortable ride.
Shepherd has done some excellent research and provides the reader with an explanation of what is history and what is fiction at the end of the novel which is just as fascinating. As a recent BBC 4 season suggested, we as a nation are obsessed with the Georgians and with thrillers like Shepherd’s to entertain us, it is easy to see why.
Lloyd Shepherd weaves history and the elements of a thriller together expertly and deftly. Despite the historical restrictions, the plot is pacey. The magic and witchcraft elements are handled credibly. The underlying logical explanation is not withheld and unwrapped as a final denouement, but revealed clue by clue as Horton investigates. The investigation is interwoven with notes from Dr Bryson, in charge at Brooke House, where Abigail and Maria find themselves. The notes offer insight into treatment methods for those consider to be insane at the time. “Savage Magic” is a satisfying tale that will appeal to lovers of historical fiction, readers looking for a thriller that isn’t a police procedural or full of forensic jargon, and readers looking for a good story fluently told.
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