Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Poisoned Island: Review

Set in Regency England, The Poisoned Island weaves stories from two voyages to Tahiti (Otaheite to the British at this time) with a tale of what happens when the H.M.S. Solander returned from that second trip. The first voyage in 1769 brings British sailors to the beautiful island paradise--with gorgeous plant life and lovely women. It is a place where magic and myth still have great influence. When the sailors head back to England, they leave behind disease and a war amongst the Tahitians. Over 40 years later, the Solander makes the journey to the island at the request of Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist in charge of the King's Gardens at Kew.  The Solander carries a crew of botanists as well as the usual sailors--a crew charged with bringing back hundreds of exotic plants from Tahiti to enhance the royal gardens. Exotic plants aren't the only things that the Solander brings back to England.  There is also a terrible secret...a secret that someone is willing kill to possess.

The Solander returns to England with her hold full of botanical treasures and in less than a week six members of her crew are dead--some have been strangled and some have had their throats cut, but they all died with the most unsettling, beatific smile on their faces. Thames River Police Constable Charles Horton is called upon by the Thames River Magistrate to investigate the murders. He will have to unravel a botanical mystery involving a pungent, rapidly-growing tree from Tahiti before all the pieces fall into place.

Lloyd Shepherd has done an excellent job of historical world-building--weaving authentic historical figures and events into a fictional tale of incredible believability. No--Sir Joseph Banks did not order such a botanical journey, but if he had....  And the underlying reason for the voyage and the secret that made it necessary makes for a very nice twist to the mystery. Charles Horton is an excellent investigator in a world before a truly organized police force.  He is feeling his way through detective work--possibly forging ground in evidence gathering and witness questioning beforehand historically, but that's okay.  I've already suspended my belief to accept Tahitian magic. Lloyd has also given Horton the perfect spouse to support him in his investigations.  She is stronger than he suspects and, in this particular novel, has an interest in botany herself that can be of great help to him.

It is a mark of how good Shepherd's novel is that the present tense telling of most of the story didn't keep me from enjoying it. I've noted in other reviews how present tense really doesn't work for me.  Generally speaking, it annoys me enough that I'm too busy thinking about how annoyed I am to ever settle down into the world the author has created. Shepherd's story is gripping and his narrative so compelling that while I was aware of the present tense (I think I always will be), it didn't overwhelm my sense of enjoyment.  Four stars.

(Although The Poisoned Island was originally released in Great Britan, it is a new [January 2014] US release and, as such, I'm counting it as a new release for Book Bingo.)


fredamans said...

Great review. This is a book I would have other wise passed by had I not read your thoughts.

Kimberlee said...

Got this one on my tbr list. Glad you enjoyed it.