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The mixture of the two stories which started so far apart and gradually blended into one and then morphed into a story that could be going on still was electrifying. I started knowing nothing about piracy, slavery or 19th century murder, now this book has had me walking the Ratcliffe highway and preparing lessons for 12 year olds` on piracy, the slave trade and poverty on the Thames. fascinating and rich, like an old brocade uniform hidden in an oak chest.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
It is difficult to emphasise how truly great this book is. The author has managed to pull together a detailed and honest history of England spanning centuries but also to include real life characters in a fantastical tale of corruption and horror. The story is about the notorious Ratcliffe Highway Murders. The characters he brings into the tale are people who really did exist at the time. It is very similar in tone to the brilliant 'Dan Leno and The Limehouse Golem' although I should emphase that 'The English Monster' is a very original work in its own right.
I would like to say a word about the East London setting. As a very young Northern jobseeker, I lived a stone's throw from the Highway in the late 70's. At first I was disappointed not to be living in the glamorous London I always envisaged but very quickly I grew to appreciate the strange character of the area. My neighbours were ex merchant seaman stranded without a ship and living in flats stuffed full of odd and sometimes frightening objects from around the world. I could walk around the last vestiges of the old London Docks before they were heavily developed into a mini New York. All the time I felt I was living somewhere that was not only old but actually ancient and still alive. Wapping still smelled of spices although the old warehouses were being turned into art galleries for the enlightened middle classes. There was not yet any sign of the new News International monster that was about to be erected, but plenty of evidence of the old slave trade and the existing sweatshops churning out clothing manufactured by poor exploited Bengali immigrants forced to work in lethal fire traps.
I lived on a street where one of Jack the Ripper's victims met her ghastly end. It was grim watching the tourists poking but I can never pretend I didn't share their fascination. This books brilliantly captures the murkiness of this area and the fact we remain on a continuous cycle of being prepared to do almost anything and overlook any inconvenient truths in order to achieve our own desires.
The English Monster is a fantastic creation but as you find out in the epilogue, much of it is true.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful