Laura Skippen is an obsessive reader and loves crime books, thrillers and history, preferably all three. All this reading (others might call it procrastination) means she has yet to get any of her own ideas on paper.
A man scans the horizon waiting for the return of a woman from Australia, but he isn’t quite sure what makes him look so obsessively. Aristocratic young men with dubious sexual tastes are murdered horribly in their locked houses. Constable Horton’s wife has committed herself to a madhouse to escape the apparition of a pacific princess. All of these seemingly unrelated occurrences are, of course, cleverly linked in this story of witchcraft, madness and debauchery set mainly in the squalid underworld of Covent Garden in 1814.
Horton cares only about his wife Abigail, but the elegantly dressed magistrate Graham is determined to engage his help in caring for his own wife. She has taken his daughter and gone to live as another man’s wife, her own cousin in fact, but now she writes to ask for his help. There are strange things happening at Thorpe Lee House and accusations of witchcraft abound, even though that surely isn’t possible, because everyone knows that witchcraft doesn’t exist now. Of course the reader, especially if they have read any of Lloyd Shepherd’s previous books, knows that witchcraft may well exist. As Horton struggles to find a rational explanation and a motive for these crimes, his wife is fighting her own demons by helping the straitjacketed new arrival to her bedlam. She is closer to the heart of these mysteries than should be possible when behind a locked door.
If magic in your murder isn’t really your thing don’t let this put you off. Savage Magic is also a historical novel that captures a world where old superstitions mingle uneasily with the dawning of a more modern age of policing. There are vivid descriptions drawing you into the sights, sounds and smells of a London where the upper echelons of society conduct their glittering social lives alongside the prostitutes and pimps who haunt the seedier side streets.
Whilst sorcery is certainly what makes this book different from other historical crime fiction, the characters would be as good in any time and place. I particularly enjoyed the introduction of Jealous, an enthusiastic young police officer who surely has a place on the team in future.
An intriguing read, where the many strands of the story are skilfully drawn together into a complex plot, with Horton and Graham a reluctant but brilliant team once again.