ScanThis novel is one of those lovely surprises, a book that came in under my radar and was all the more enjoyable for me not knowing anything  about it before I started reading.

The English Monster was brought to my attention via Silvery Dude, who had gone on a little book-buying spree and had been told by one of the nice people at Waterstones Piccadilly that given what he had already picked up he should read this, and he passed the info onto me and I bought it immediately on reading the plot synopsis. Silvery Dude and I had planned a bit of a readalongathon but that turned out to be impractical as (1) SD has been incredibly busy workwise and (2) I just couldn’t put the darned thing down.

It’s a nicely constructed novel which tells two stories in alternating chapters. The first is the tale of the Ratcliffe Highway murders in the Regency London and the nascent police force investigating the killings. The second is the tale of William Abless as he begins his career under the Tudor sailor John Hawkyns in developing the English slave trade. The two stories are clearly going to cross at some point and the fun of reading the novel is in seeing exactly how that happens and why.

I thought this was fabulous, and I say that as someone who normally avoids stories involving pirates like the plague. The Big Thing that happens is handled very cleverly and I had to read it through again just to make sure that what had happened was actually what had happened. The murder mystery sections are fascinating and truly horrible and paint a picture of Regency justice which shows how much the city needed a proper police force when it finally came along. I found the ending really satisfying and am glad that this is the first of a series.

I always enjoy reading the author’s note but this is a particularly fascinating in giving us the lowdown on what’s real and what’s invented but especially in the discussion about Britain’s involvement in setting up the slave trade and all the attendant awfulness, something which has been overshadowed by the focus on abolition. It made me dig out Harry Kelsey’s biography of John Hawkyns from my 16th Century history pile to read more about him.

So, a hidden gem for my last proper read of 2012.

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