- Virginia Johnson
The English Monster, by Lloyd Shepherd, blends two stories of horror—one short, sharp, and bloody while the other is a slow unraveling of a man’s conscience.
October, 1564: A handsome young man, just married and very much in love, travels a dangerous path to the port of Plymouth, England, where he hopes to find a berth on a ship bound for adventure, but more importantly, riches to make their new life together secure. It is try and succeed or fail and never return for William Ablass. His letter of introduction earns him a place on board Captain Hawkins’ vessel where he becomes shipmates and friends with Francis Drake, later “El Draco,” the terror of the Spanish fleet. Their adventures succeed in turning a golden profit but at a very dark cost.
December, 1811: Margaret Jewell, servant to a ships’ outfitter in the seedy port of Shadwell outside London, has been ordered out of the house on a fool’s errand. She’s happy for a little time to herself though, even if it means avoiding the drunken city watchman. But when she returns, her master’s door is locked tight, and there is no answer to her desperate pounding as the watchman takes notice and wends her way, as does a short, stinking stranger who will be the first to find the bodies.
With strong writing and an impressive command of historical details, The English Monster is hugely satisfying for those who like their mysteries to be revealed through the scrim of other centuries. Fans of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and David Liss’ A Conspiracy of Paper should enjoy this debut novel which tracks desire and dissipation through the years and across the high seas.