Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Fiction
On 21 June 1585, six unfortunate pirates hang on the gallows at Wapping’s riverbank. Three days later, after the tide has washed over their bodies, the locals come to cut them down. But the pirate captain has disappeared.
Seventeen-year-old Margaret Jewell works for a retired sailor, who is now a linen draper and supplier to the ships that anchor in the Thames. When she returns from an errand the evening of 7 December 1811, she finds the door locked and no one answers her knocks. Her shouts eventually lead the watchman to investigate, and inside he discovers four bodies, including that of a baby, brutally murdered.
Although separated by more than two hundred years, these crimes are linked. The tale begins in the fall of 1564 when Billy Ablass ventures to Plymouth to seek his fortune aboard John Hawkyins’ ship, which is bound for distant shores on a secret mission. He leaves behind his new bride, but shares his adventures with her in imaginary letters. Speculation runs rampant among the crew as to the Jesus of Lübeck’s purpose and destination, but interfering in Spanish affairs seems high on the list. Young Francis Drake takes Billy under his wing, and after a short voyage to Africa to collect a load of slaves, they sail for the West Indies to “trade” with the colonies of Spain. But when Billy and another man are dropped on one of the islands off the tip of Florida to search for fresh water, they encounter four natives. Since another ship brought a terrible evil that killed many of their people, the old woman places a curse on them – one must die; the other will forever live in a place “where nobody enters and nobody leaves.” (142)
Charles Horton is the waterman-constable and the first investigator to arrive on the bloody scene in 1811. While this crime occurs outside his bailiwick, he has a knack for sleuthing, taking the tiniest of clues and compiling them until he identifies the guilty party. Twelve days later another family is slain, and while the coroner decides the deaths are willful murder, politics derail Horton’s official investigation. But his dogged determination refuses to let him cease the struggle to bring the evil monster to justice.
Based on real events, this historical thriller unfolds in two alternating narratives. Billy’s narrative is told in past tense; the Regency murder investigation is told in present tense. At first, you may find the switch between the two incongruent stories disconcerting, but eventually the intricate web Shepherd weaves will mesmerize you. His author’s note at the end of the book is equally intriguing – at least to those interested in pirates, true crime, and historical fiction. While never crossing into the realm of horror, The English Monster is nonetheless a tale not for the faint of heart. It is chilling, yet fascinating, and spiced with just the right measure to haunt those who dare to tread where pirates and murderers ply their trades.
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Review Copyrighted ©2013 Cindy Vallar
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