Recent Events

Monday 22 February 2016

‘Savage Magic’ by Lloyd Shepherd

Published by Simon & Schuster,
2 July 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-47113-608-5 (PB)

Research is an essential element of all historical fiction; making sure the historical details are right ensures credibility and a tightly woven background. Making it feel right is the really difficult part: what sorts the amateurs from the truly talented writers.

On this evidence, Lloyd Shepherd falls firmly in the truly talented category. He weaves a complex plot with a supernatural edge, and sets it against several different backgrounds, exploring various less than savoury aspects of early 19th century life – but most of all he creates an atmosphere in keeping with the times, which not only draws the reader deep into the murky world of dissolute behaviour, abuse and prostitution he portrays, but also reflects the sense of  almost stifling frustration which surrounds the protagonists as they battle with forces they do not quite understand.

The historical detail is drawn in detail, with a great deal of colourful description; an afterword explains how much of it is genuine and how much the author’s invention, but the two are inextricable in the complex narrative. The prevailing attitude of the time towards witchcraft has a large part to play, as does the experimental approach towards treatment of mental health problems, and it all carries a sense of reality.

Several apparently unconnected storylines run parallel for most of the book, presented from four viewpoints and in as many different styles. One follows two young women confined in a mental institution, one severely troubled, the other haunted by delusions which she knows aren’t real. Another explores the causes of a number of disturbing incidents at the country home of a dissolute peer and his mistress. In a third, a series of bizarre locked-room murders baffles a senior magistrate tasked with investigating them. In a world long before mobile phones, or indeed any swift method of communication, the links between them take a long time to appear.

The result is a dense piece of storytelling which echoes some of the novelists who came later in the same century: Dickens, Wilkie Collins, with a nod towards Thomas Love Peacock, Maria Edgeworth and Bram Stoker. It isn’t an easy or comfortable read, but Shepherd’s deft hand with character and plot ensures that it quickly becomes a compelling one. I found a few chapters at a time were enough, but I was soon drawn back for another helping, partly because I found I cared about the fate of the viewpoint characters, and also simply because I wanted to know how it all tied together.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Lloyd Shepherd worked as a trade journalist and a digital product manager for the likes of the Guardian, the BBC, Yahoo, Channel 4 and Financial Times Newsletters.
Lloyd lives in South London. His first book, The English Monster, came out in 2012. His second, The Poisoned Island, followed in 2013. They're both set in London in the early 19th century, they both feature a proto-detective named Charles Horton and his magistrate John Harriott, and they both combine historical fiction with murder-mystery and a good healthy dash of the supernatural. They've been called 'Regency X-Files'.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

No comments:

Post a Comment