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review 2014-01-17 13:40
BOOKSHOTS: 'The Poisoned Island' by Lloyd Shepherd
The Poisoned Island: A Novel - Lloyd Shepherd

Title:

 

The Poisoned Island

 

Who wrote it?

 

British writer Lloyd Shepherd, author of The English Monster.

 

Plot in a box:

 

In the late 1700s, a British sailor does something terrible to a princess on the faraway island of Otaheite (Tahiti). Now it's 1812, and sailors return from a newer trip to the island with a couple of secret stowaways: a half-breed missionary on a hunt to find his real dad, and a special tea that just may be killing anyone who drinks it. When murders begin to pile up, a River Constable risks everything—including the woman he loves—to solve the crimes.

 

Part history (half the characters are based on real people), part fiction, it's a well-mannered romp through time and addiction.

 

Invent a new title for this book:

 

Evil Tea and the Sailors who Loved It

 

Read this if you liked:

 

Any brand of historical fiction. The mash-up of the real with the imagined in this story is quite potent...just like the tea.

 

Meet the book's lead(s): 

 

This is a hard one. There are so many to choose from! Island is something of an ensemble piece, and many of the characters carry a similar importance to the plot. So I'll go ahead and choose Charles Horton, a Constable of the River Police, who are a group of men trained to watch the Thames as ships come in and out. A gentle giant is Horton, and a smart one, introducing newfangled concepts like "motive" and "evidence" into the investigation of a seeming serial killer.

 

Said lead(s) would be played in a movie by:

 

I hate myself for this, but I sort of see Russell Crowe in this role. Mainly because I still see him as Javier in Les Miserables. 

 

Setting: Would you want to live there?

 

London of the early 1800s was filthy. It was crude. And it was dangerous.

I'd like to visit.

 

What was your favorite sentence?

"He sometimes feels vaguely and irritatingly angered by Horton's ability to ask the single question which exposes all the hiding places in which information might be concealed."

(Mainly because there's a certain someone who always does this to me...and it drives me insane.)

 

The Verdict:

 

The Poisoned Island is immersive and addictive. The world is so vivid and well-built, it is hard to put down. And since the story is a murder-mystery, with layers of history and fact woven together with a healthy dose of magical realism, there's suspense, too, to keep you invested.

 

The writing is spectacular. The words drip with charm and grace. I loved letting the language carry me away, even in its crudest moments, with the roughest rabble-scrabble of 19th century London. There's no denying that this is a well-written book, with an engaging tale to tell.

 

But I take issue with The Poisoned Island on two levels. In the first place, there were so many characters, introduced in such close succession at the very beginning of the story, each with such similar names, I needed to write myself a cast list to keep them all straight. This is a minor complaint, to be sure, especially knowing the characters were often pulled from reality, but still. The beginning was quite confusing, what with Horton, Harriot, Hopkins, Banks and Brown all showing up in the first few pages. I felt like I'd taken a wrong turn into Dr. Seuss-ville for a moment or three.

 

My second issue is the bigger one, and it is this: women are almost entirely absent from the story, which would probably be less offensive if the few women included weren't flat, one-dimensional caricatures. There's the island princess, raped in the book's opening scene, who disappears and comes back as a devious spirit, the quintessential vengeful bitch archetype. There's Abigail Horton, held up on a pedestal by her husband as the very picture of perfection. And the thing is: she is perfect. Smart, gentle, content to keep herself company with her books while her husband spends days and nights away from home. She's a working man's wet dream, and she's so unrealistic it hurts. And then there's Mrs. Hopkins, the sea captain's wife, loyal and dutiful to the end, even when...well, I can't tell you that because it would be a spoiler. But none of the three women mentioned in the book were at all believable, so pigeon-holed were they. Even though London of old was apparently a man's world, women did exist, and I doubt they were all so...fake.

 

So while I did often enjoy this book, in the end I'm conflicted. Can I recommend a book that seems to devalue my entire gender? Am I being oversensitive? I'm not sure of the answer to either question, so I'll close it with one for you: what are your thoughts? Have you read the story, and if so, am I being unfair? I'd love to know what you think!

 

Bookshots review written for LitReactor.com by Leah Rhyne

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review 2013-12-19 00:00
The Poisoned Island
The Poisoned Island - Lloyd Shepherd One of the more intriguing elements of The Poisoned Island is the glimpse of life along the Thames that it provides. The various districts, docks, classes, and social rules create an amalgamation of life unique to that location and time period. Its vibrancy as well as its extremes are outstandingly portrayed by Mr. Shepherd, evoking all five senses and immersing the reader into the story.

The Poisoned Island is the Thames River Police’s beginning uses of modern investigative techniques. The doubt, suspicion, and mockery Horton and his team face at each stage of the investigation are an opportunity to learn about the evolution of police investigation. The more things change, however, the more things stay the same. The territorial battles Horton and his department face are very familiar to modern readers and help cross that bridge across time which can be so difficult in historical fiction.

Exotic locales, nautical history, investigative history, Victorian London, the haves versus the have-nots, and a hint of magic all combine to create an explosive story about revenge and the dangers of empire-building. The scenes occurring in Tahiti are as lush and erotic with a hint of danger as one would expect, while the scenes in London are the perfect opposite – harsh, grimy, tough, cold, restrained, and bleak. The juxtaposition between the two settings propels the narrative and heightens tension. Police Chief Horton is the perfect combination of logic and patience, and the entire story is a fascinating and suspenseful whodunit that will get the blood flowing and the heart pumping.
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review 2013-10-14 22:21
The Poisoned Island
The Poisoned Island - Lloyd Shepherd

bookshelves: autumn-2013, historical-fiction, net-galley, e-book, plague-disease, eye-scorcher, gardening, magical-realism, london, regency-romp1811-1820, published-2013

Read from October 08 to 15, 2013


NetGalley ARC from Atria Books/Washington Square Press

Description: A brilliant young police officer discovers a series of bizarre deaths are connected to the cargo of a research vessel bound for Kew Gardens in this fantasy-tinged historical thriller set in early nineteenth-century London.

Author Website

Opening quote is from The Botanic Garden, “The Economy of Vegetation” Canto 1

She comes!—the Goddess!—through the whispering air,
Bright as the morn, descends her blushing car;
Each circling wheel a wreath of flowers entwines,
And gemm’d with flowers the silken harness shines;
The golden bits with flowery studs are deck’d,
And knots of flowers the crimson reins connect.—
And now on earth the silver axle rings,
And the shell sinks upon its slender springs;
Light from her airy seat the Goddess bounds,
And steps celestial press the pansied grounds.


We open up with a rape on Tahiti 1769. Rape is an area of contention with the book industry at the moment as many readers will not tolerate a book with that as a frontspiece. Historically though, that is the way things were back then and the sexually transmitted diseases spread by those sailors come back to London with the sailors of the Solander in 1812.

So keep this book in your hand because you are in for an exciting story with many twists and turns, some of them magical and deadly.

John Harriott is from the realm of historical fact, he was the instigator of the London River Police and he also featured in Lloyd Shepherd's debut novel 'The English Monster', which I haven't read yet, so this seems to be a series.

Excellent read and I feel the need to catch a hold of a copy of the first novel.

Cross-posted to NetGalley, aNobii, LibraryThing, Bettie's Books

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text 2013-10-13 21:22
The Poisoned Island
The Poisoned Island - Lloyd Shepherd

bookshelves: currently-reading, published-2014, autumn-2013, historical-fiction, net-galley, e-book

NetGalley ARC from Atria Books/Washington Square Press

Description: A brilliant young police officer discovers a series of bizarre deaths are connected to the cargo of a research vessel bound for Kew Gardens in this fantasy-tinged historical thriller set in early nineteenth-century London.

Author Website

Opening quote is from The Botanic Garden, “The Economy of Vegetation” Canto 1

She comes!—the Goddess!—through the whispering air,
Bright as the morn, descends her blushing car;
Each circling wheel a wreath of flowers entwines,
And gemm’d with flowers the silken harness shines;
The golden bits with flowery studs are deck’d,
And knots of flowers the crimson reins connect.—
And now on earth the silver axle rings,
And the shell sinks upon its slender springs;
Light from her airy seat the Goddess bounds,
And steps celestial press the pansied grounds.


HARD HAT AREA: review under construction; beware of dropped aitches, uncrossed tees and undotted eyes.

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review 2013-08-23 00:00
The Poisoned Island - Lloyd Shepherd First of all I should perhaps make clear that I havent read "The English Monster" which precedes this novel but it did not detract from my enjoyment of "The Poisoned Island" one bit.LONDON 1812: For forty years Britain has dreamed of the Pacific island of Tahiti, a dark paradise of bloody cults and beautiful natives. Now, decades after the first voyage of Captain Cook, a new ship returns to London, crammed with botanical specimens and, it seems, the mysteries of Tahiti.When, days after the Solander's arrival, some of its crew are found dead and their sea-chests ransacked - their throats slashed, faces frozen into terrible smiles, John Harriott, magistrate of the Thames river police, puts constable Charles Horton in charge of the investigation.The way I would describe this novel in one word is "Rich". The prose is terrific and draws you straight into another world. Characterisation is top notch and as someone who doesnt really "do" historical fiction I was immediately hooked. The streets of London live in this book - familiar places but with an unfamiliar way of living, the sense of place is amazing. The mystery is intriguing...and although I know absolutely nothing about this period in History it all felt very authentic.Its difficult to review this book - another one where almost anything you would love to say will probably include spoilers...I think I'm just going to leave with this. If you are looking for something highly intriguing, a little bit different to the norm and have an interest in History then this one is for you. Certainly, although I am late to the party, I shall be picking up a copy of "The English Monster" soon. Nicely done Mr Shepherd.Thanks to the author and publisher for the copy of this book via netgalley. Happy Reading Folks!
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