Title: The Poisoned Island
Author: Lloyd Shepherd
No. of Pages: 416
Genre: Historical Fiction
Origins: Washington Square Press
Release Date: 14 January 2014
Bottom Line: A little bit of magic only serves to heighten the suspense of this fascinating murder mystery
“Tahiti 1769. English sailors arrive on the shores of the Polynesian paradise— a place of staggering beauty where magic and ancient myths still hold sway. But they soon devastate the island with disease, war, and death, planting deadly seeds that will be carried back to England forty years later.
London 1812. On a gray June morning, the Solander docks, her hold containing hundreds of exotic plants from Tahiti for the King’s Gardens at Kew. The apparently successful expedition soon takes a horrifying— and inexplicable—turn: The crew of the Solander starts dying one by one. Thames River Police Chief Charles Horton can find no signs of murder or suicide to explain the deaths, and the ship’s surviving crew seems intent on hampering his investigation. When one of the plants begins to show frightening changes, it is up to Charles Horton to determine how it might be stopped.”
Thoughts: 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.