Publisher: Mantle (Trade Paperback edition – 24 January 2019)
Series: Standalone/Book 1
Length: 432 page
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
From the creative mind of Laura Shepherd-Robinson comes this powerful, dark and extremely captivating historical murder mystery, which might just be one of the most impressive debuts of early 2019.
In June 1781, a horrific murder is discovered on the dock of the slaver port of Deptford, outside of London. The body has been brutally tortured in a variety of ways associated with the slave trade, and his chest has been branded with a slaver’s mark. The dead man was Tad Archer, a passionate abolitionist who had been causing trouble throughout Deptford as part of his abolitionist campaign.
Days later, Captain Harry Corsham, a war hero who fought in the American Revolution, currently attached to the War Office and about to embark on a promising career as a politician, receives a visit from Tad’s sister, who is searching for her missing brother. Tad, an old estranged friend of Harry’s, was apparently in Deptford to expose a secret that could potentially end the British slave trade. Travelling to Deptford, Harry discovers the terrible fate of Tad and is determined to bring his killer to justice.
In order to discover who is responsible for his friend’s the murder, Harry must uncover the secret that Tad believed could permanently end the slave trade. But as Harry investigates further, he finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that reaches to the very heart of the realm. Powerful forces wish to see murder covered up and anyone connected to the dark secret silenced. Harry soon finds himself on the wrong side of men who can easily destroy his career and family. Undeterred, Harry presses on with his investigation, but he may prove to be unprepared for the cruel killer stalking him through Deptford.
Blood & Sugar is the debut novel of Laura Shepherd-Robinson, a fantastic new voice in the historical murder mystery genre. Shepherd-Robinson has created an outstanding novel that masterfully blends a fantastic and clever murder mystery with some powerful and evocative historical content. The result is a terribly addictive novel that highlights this debuting author’s obvious ability to craft an excellent and compelling story. From how the story is written, Blood & Sugar will probably be a standalone novel, although I do hope that Shepherd-Robinson sticks with the historical fiction and murder mystery genres, as she has an amazing talent with both.
At the heart of this amazing book is a complex and intriguing murder mystery that sets the book’s protagonist off on a dangerous and dark investigation of the slave trade. While the investigation is originally focused on the murder of Tad Archer, it spirals out into to encapsulate several additional murders and a larger and more widespread conspiracy which may or may not be connected to the initial murder. Each of these mysteries is clever, well thought-out and guaranteed to grab the reader’s curiosity and keep them going through the story to work out the incredible solution. The author has also populated her story with a number of distinctive and complex characters, each of whom has their own hidden secrets and dark pasts. In order to solve Blood & Sugar’s overarching mystery, the protagonist has to unravel each of these character’s lies and personal secrets, each of which add a new layer to book’s excellent plot. These characters are all extremely self-serving and naturally suspicious, providing the reader with a huge pool of potential suspects. The investigation into each of these mystery elements is extremely well written, and I really loved all the solutions to the book’s various mysteries. I was really impressed with the conclusion to each of the personal mysteries that are uncovered throughout the narrative, and some of them were extremely satisfying to see come to a conclusion.
In addition to the outstanding mystery storyline, Shepherd-Robinson has also created an amazing and realistic historical setting for her story. I felt that the author did a terrific job capturing the essence of 18th century England, from the streets of London to the docklands of Deptford. There was a particular focus on the then port town of Deptford, which served as a major plot focus for the book, as well as several other riverside locations. I loved this examination of Deptford, and I found the examination of this part of its dark history to be absolutely fascinating. These locations serve as an appropriately dingy setting for such a dark story, and I really enjoyed it.
A major part of this book was the focus on the evil slave trade that was a major business during the 18th century in England. As part of the plot, the author spends a significant amount of time exploring every facet of English slavery and the slave trade in the 1780s, including the economics behind it, the burgeoning abolitionist movement, slave laws throughout England during this period and how it was a major part of Deptford’s economy and way of life. These details are extremely interesting and disconcerting, as Shepherd-Robinson pulls no punches when it comes to describing the brutal actions of the slavers and the cold business that they practiced. The slave trade also serves as an incredibly effective background motive and catalyst for the murders and the conspiracy that the protagonist finds himself drawn into. The author crafts an incredibly captivating mystery storyline around the English slave trade, and I was both intrigued and appalled to find that certain horrendous elements of this plot were based around a real-life historical slave event. Blood & Sugar is definitely a must-read for those unafraid to learn more about the cruelty of the English slave trade and who wish to see it creatively used as a major plot point in this captivating story.
While Blood & Sugar featured a number of duplicitous and villainous characters who serve as excellent antagonists, Shepherd-Robinson has also crafted a compelling and layered protagonist to tell this story as the book’s narrator. On the surface, Captain Harry Corsham is your typical English hero, a former soldier determined to find the man responsible for the death of his friend. However, as the book progresses, the reader finds out that there is a lot more to Harry’s character than first meets the eye. Harry is a deeply conflicted character in many ways, but throughout this book he struggles with his opinions about slavery and the abolitionist movement. In his past he was a strong supporter of abolishing the slave trade, but since he has entered politics and married into an influential family, he is more aware of the current political realities around the slave trade. But as he spends more and more time investigating the Deptford slave traders, he finds himself being drawn more and more into the abolitionist way of thinking. The author has also written in a fairly realistic portrayal of PTSD for Harry after the horrors he experienced fighting in the American Revolution. This is an intriguing character trait, and one that comes into play the more horrors that Harry experiences during this book. Shepherd-Robinson has also included some amazingly well-written and very surprising personal developments for her protagonist that really change everything in the latter half of the book. All these character elements add layers to this central protagonist, and I liked the emotional and ethical impacts that they caused on the story.
Overall, I thought that Blood & Sugar was a powerful and captivating historical murder mystery that expertly combines an intriguing and clever mystery storyline with some first-rate historical backgrounds and plot points. This is an exceptional debut from Laura Shepherd-Robinson which showcases her amazing talent and superb ability as a writer. This was an easy five stars from me, and I am really excited to see what sort of story this fresh and inventive author writes next.