Savage Magic by Lloyd Shepherd

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Savage Magic by Lloyd Shepherd

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: An atmospheric Victorian thriller encompassing a murder mystery, the dark world of the madhouse and the suggestion of superstition. Eerily enticing and a definite page-turner!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: July 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1471136085

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London, 1842: Magistrate Aaron Graham is missing his wife. She's left him, taking their daughter to live with her cousin in a very uncousinly way. Yet her distance doesn't prevent her discussing the goings on at her new home with Graham; as these goings on resemble witchcraft and seem to be taking a toll on his daughter's health Aaron is rightly worried. He calls upon Constable Horton to investigate… this is the Horton whose wife Graham encouraged to enter one of the more exclusive madhouses. Under the circumstances it seemed the right thing to do but Horton still hasn't forgiven his superior for it. However, as the investigation goes on and Graham is distracted by a murder case with a rising body count, these bubbling undercurrents of enmity reduce in importance. The important thing for each of them has become survival.

British author Lloyd Shepherd is a former journalist with the likes of Channel 4 and BBC on his curriculum vitae. Where novels are concerned, his previous two (The English Monster and The Poisoned Island) have given him a reputation as an expert manipulator of crime tinted with the supernatural. Now Savage Magic reinforces that reputation with knobs on.

Lloyd is one of those authors who introduces us to apparently unconnected story threads and then weaves them – and our imaginations – into a form which makes aha moment sense. In this case we have Henry Lodge, watching the convict ships as they return from Australia, a magistrate sending a river policeman on a mission and a woman in a madhouse whose only symptom is a feeling that she's stalked and spoken to by a South Sea Islander. As weft threads these are pretty compelling, but then the warp threads appear: various brutal murders, a hedonistic sect… This is great stuff where not a stitch or word is wasted.

As the action comes at a ripping rate once the tension dial is turned up to 11, we would forgive an author for stepping away from the characterisation. Not Lloyd; as we shuffle towards the edges of our seats, we actually learn more about the people we're plumping for.

Both Aaron Graham and Horton are missing their wives. In fact it says something for the Victorian sense of duty that Horton will help Graham protect his wife while Abigail Horton remains incarcerated. When it comes to Sarah Horton, is the talk of witchcraft just the babble of rustic villagers or does something lurk beneath the accusations?

Meanwhile in Brooke House Abigail has befriended a very troubled Maria Canfield. (There's a wonderfully ironic vignette of Abigail reading the strait-jacketed Maria A Vindication of the Rights of Women by the way.) However we soon realise that the real threat to Abigail comes from the institution itself rather than Maria.

Among all this Lloyd still finds time to create a full historical backdrop, inserting fascinations about Sir Francis Dashwood and the scarily interesting diary inserts written by the Brooke House mad doctors (a phrase you can take in many ways).

Lloyd shows us a world tinted with Dickensian shadow, remaining true to an era while remaining totally accessible to the modern mind. Using one of his own lines, where Savage Magic is concerned, the interior is a… phantasmagoria that leaves us breathless and longing for more.

(A huge thank you to the folks at Simon & Schuster for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you like your murder to be historically set, we recommend at trip back to the Civil War and A Cruel Necessity by L C Tyler. If you also enjoy a subtle shading of the supernatural too, then try The Raven's Head by Karen Maitland.

Buy Savage Magic by Lloyd Shepherd at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Savage Magic by Lloyd Shepherd at

Buy Savage Magic by Lloyd Shepherd at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Savage Magic by Lloyd Shepherd at


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