Savage Magic is the third in Lloyd Shepherd’s series about London’s River Police which started with The English Monster (which I reviewed here) and continued with The Poisoned Island which was my first read of this year, and to (for?) which this novel is something of a sequel, as the starting point for several of the characters is a direct result of the events of the previous novel. So although you don’t need to have read that first, it will all make a bit more sense if you have.
Unofficial plug over.
But what of the plot? Well….
It’s 1814 and London’s Covent Garden is at the centre of a dark trade, enticing rich and poor alike with a cocktail of gin and beer and sex. 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 sign of entry.
And if that wasn’t enough, there are also accusations of witchcraft in the countryside outside London which need to be looked into ….
Why did I want to read it?
I am a great fan of this series and had pre-ordered this as soon as I knew it was coming out. It’s a period of London history that I don’t know very much about and I have become fond of the main characters, particularly Abigail Horton, the wife of our main protagonist, so picking this up was a no-brainer for me.
What did I think of it?
As I’ve already said I enjoy this series very much but I think this is the best so far, which is interesting given that at least one of the main characters from previous volumes (Harrington) is offstage through illness for most of the narrative and the others (Abigail, her husband Charles and Aaron Graham) are apart for most of the novel for very good and important-to-the-plot reasons. In fact I became very anxious indeed about Abigail’s situation…..
The other interesting thing is that very little of the story has anything to do with the Thames at all, though convict transport to Australia and return to England do feature. What we do have is a thoroughly absorbing story which touches on the treatment of the insane (hint – it isn’t good, especially for female patients), the sex trade and in particular the debauchery of the wealthy (which seems in this case to have very few if any limits) and witchcraft and superstition, alive and well in rural parts even post-Enlightenment. I do enjoy a good-locked room mystery, and I also like to see how the various plot strands come together as they inevitably do. Very ingeniously done in this case, with a whiff of the not entirely natural which has been a theme of the series.
It’s also great fun to read about an area that I know pretty well given that when I’m working in London I’m based on Kingsway, just round the corner from Graham’s home in Great Queen Street and a stone’s throw away from Covent Garden.
The reading experience was an unusual one for me in that I started the novel some time ago and then a combination of increased workload before holiday (never a good time to read anything that requires attention in my experience) and the previously mentioned anxiety about what the author was going to put Abigail through meant that it languished on the TBR pile until I found myself in a hotel in the south-west of Scotland where I could give it the attention it deserved, and I read the last third in a single sitting late into the night. And very satisfying it was too.
If you haven’t given this series a try then you really should, whether it’s for the historical setting, the supernatural stuff or a good novel of detection. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes next.
This was my third read for RIP IX. It is also the book that got me to my target of 52 books in 52 weeks, so everything I read after that is a bonus!