A British ship carries a deadly secret in this historical mystery–cum-horror.
When the Solander returns in 1812 from a botanical expedition and docks in Wapping, it falls under the protection of John Harriott, the magistrate of the River Police Office. Sir Joseph Banks, the president of the Royal Society who funded the Solander’s expedition to Otaheite (aka Tahiti), orders Harriott to keep the ship and its botanical samples safe. Sir Joseph’s concern seems justified when Charles Horton, a waterman constable under Harriott’s command, discovers two sailors from the Solander strangled—with incongruously blissful smiles on their dead faces—in a ransacked boardinghouse room. Subsequent murders of Solander crewmembers, as well as political infighting, occupy Harriott and Horton, while Robert Brown, Sir Joseph’s librarian, tries to figure out why a breadfruit tree cutting grows so impossibly fast. Harriott, Brown and Horton painfully learn what Sir Joseph is withholding about the nature of the tree, a strange tea made from its leaves and his true agenda in funding the Solander’s voyage. Although the tale gives short shrift to its female characters and is slow to give up its treasures, it does pull you in and build up to a rattling good denouement.
If you like Regency suspense with historical figures and fantastic horticulture—or you’re simply a fan of clever writing—Shepherd (The English Monster, 2012) delivers the goods.