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Monday 8 August 2016

‘The Detective and the Devil’ by Lloyd Shepherd

Published by Simon & Schuster,
21 April 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-4711-3612-2

At the start of the book the action is divided between the late 16th Century and the early 19th Century. It begins in 1585 when a Dutch mercenary called Jacobus leads a paid rabble to rampage through the finest library in England while he steals a certain incredibly rare volume. The house they invade is at Mortlake, beside the Thames, and the library belongs to John Dee, magician and alchemist. Jacobus double-crosses his employers and memorises the information before destroying the book, he then persuades his employers to give him the money to build an island fort, promising that with the knowledge he has gained he will enrich them all.

In 1815, River Constable Charles Horton and his wife Abigail are enjoying a rare trip to the theatre. They are watching The Tempest and the story strikes an immediate chord with Horton. Their evening is interrupted when Horton is summoned to the scene of three brutal murders in Wapping, the murder victims are Benjamin Johnson, his wife and daughter. Wapping is not in Horton's jurisdiction but the killings have a strong resemblance to murders that Horton had investigated three years ago. That killer had been known as the Monster, and Horton had killed him – but now it seems the Monster has returned, or another Monster has appeared in his place.

Johnson worked for the East India Company and the enormous, wealthy and powerful Company has secrets it will do anything to keep concealed. As Horton struggles to avoid the snares set in his path by the influential men who wish to hide the truth, his wife, Abigail, also has a lonely battle to fight as she struggles to regain and retain her mental health after time spent in a mental hospital. Clever and well-read, Abigail knows that her husband needs her support as much, and probably more, than she needs his, and continually battles his attempts to smother her with his solicitude.

All the threads of the investigation lead to the small island of Helena and, when London becomes too dark and dangerous a place for Horton and his wife, they travel there. On St Helena the past and present merge as they discover the truth behind John Dee's stolen book, and they explore the parallels between St Helena and Prospero's isle, and Abigail encounters the island's own Caliban. On St Helena they track down a killer who is not the Monster but seems to be the Devil.

The Detective and the Devil is a deeply intriguing, beautifully written book. It is the fourth book featuring Charles Horton and I would have liked to read the previous three books before I came to this one. The back-story is clearly explained but with such a rich, multi-textured narrative I would have preferred to read them in order and suggest that other readers might care to do that first, but I would certainly recommend reading them. The Detective and the Devil is a superb book, with an intriguing, multi-layered mystery and compelling descriptions of the power and politics of the time and the vulnerability of those who possessed neither wealth nor influence. Horton and Abigail are strong and likeable protagonists and it is an excellent read.
Reviewer:  Carol Westron
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’s first three books - The English Monster, The Poisoned Island, Savage Magic, and The Detective and the Devil - are set in London in the early 19th century. They feature a detective who's never heard the word detective - a constable called Charles Horton - and his boss, magistrate John Harriott. Horton and Harriott are from the River Police Office in Wapping, London's second police office after Bow Street. The crimes they investigate are not quite what they seem to be. Lloyd lives in South London. With his wife and two children.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.

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