The Poisoned Island

Starred review in Publisher’s Weekly

“I LOVED it! Very stylish, very ingenious and very well-written.”Joanne Harris

Forty years ago, in 1769, a young Englishman sailed on a ship to distant paradises. On one of them lived a princess. The Englishman loved women and loved life, and he took this princess against her will, and she disappeared. He never saw her again.

That young man is now one of the most powerful in England. He is Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, advocate for the new sciences and curator of Kew Gardens. Haunted by that long-ago transgression, he has paid for a ship to return to that same paradise – the island of Tahiti – and bring back as many plants as its crew can find to stock the hothouses of Kew.

But on their return the men from the voyage begin to die, and their faces at death suggest a state of ecstasy. What has been taken from them? And what put that awful smile on their dying mouths? Sir Joseph turns to the one man he knows who might unpick such a mystery, Wapping’s unique waterman-constable Charles Horton.

Horton’s strange methods of detection, unknown in a London without a police force, soon have results. His investigations point him towards Kew, towards Sir Joseph, and ultimately towards that dark island paradise on the far side of the world. Has that long-remembered princess returned to haunt Sir Joseph? And if so – what does she want?

Read an extract here.

Critical reaction

I LOVED it! Very stylish, very ingenious and very well-written.

Joanne Harris

Shepherd adroitly blurs fact and fiction with a hint of the fantastic, creating his own superior blend of historical crime fiction.

Christopher Fowler, Financial Times

As in his previous novel, he overlays his historical research with a veil of the paranormal, no mean feat when many of the characters are Enlightenment scientists. He deviates from the crime template to unsettling effect: Horton’s fabled powers of observation and deduction fail him at one crucial point, the bad are not obviously punished nor the good and innocent rescued. It’s a little more conventional than its predecessor, but a gutsy, involving yarn nonetheless.

Suzi Feay, The Guardian

Memorable prose, tight plotting, and complex characters distinguish Shepherd’s follow-up to 2012’s The English Monster. In June 1812, the Solander, a ‘nondescript ship containing wonders,’ arrives in London, bearing the fruits of a major botanical expedition to Tahiti. The discoveries prove to have more than scientific implications when members of the crew start turning up dead with smiles on their faces, even after being strangled or having their throats slit. The task of solving the crimes falls to Charles Horton, of the Thames River Police, whose methods have already been successful in a number of cases?notably the Ratcliffe Highway murders six months earlier. The involvement of the Royal Society president, naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, who sent the Solander on its mission to the far side of the world, makes the investigation a politically sensitive one. Shepherd’s use of the present tense lends an intimate immediacy to the action.

Publishers Weekly starred review

For me, this was a novel of rare delight – mysterious, original, with a cast of convincing characters, mostly historical, and a plot that keeps you guessing almost until the end.


Although The Poisoned Island follows on from The English Monster, the book works perfectly as a standalone novel. In fact, not knowing the twist of the first book might even be a benefit as I got an idea of what was going early on. I didn?t get it spot on though so there are still surprises and the mystery is only a small part of what is an excellent read with wonderfully evocative descriptions.

Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

The Poisoned Island is particularly alive to the fact that expeditions such as the Solander’s had a complex range of consequences, both positive and negative. Shepherd’s series is becoming something quite distinctive.

Follow the Thread

This story is masterful, combining as it does history and real characters with imagined personae, intrigue and politics. For anyone who has read The English Monster, this is another very rewarding read. If you haven`t been introduced to Lloyd Shepherd, this is an admirable first taste!

Today I’m Reading

The Poisoned Island is a fabulous novel that I could barely put down over the last two days. Murder mystery, historical retelling, supernatural tale, it is a thoroughly fascinating and gripping look at the more sinister side of the famous Georgian sea journeys of discovery as well as the more suspect origins of the great botanic collections of Kew Gardens. This isn’t my favourite period of history, far from it, but if there’s any author that makes me want to know more about it, it’s Lloyd Shepherd. More, please!

For Winter Nights

The juxtaposition of real and imaginary people in this story adds to its charm and makes for a really dynamic piece of writing. I enjoyed this story even more than his previous one, THE ENGLISH MONSTER, which was also a fine piece of writing. The character of Charles Horton is a fascinating and really attractive protagonist with lots of skeletons in his closet. The book was expertly researched and full of excellent period detail. The plot with its dramatic twists and turns and very vivid, knowledgeable and widely diverse scenes kept me transfixed until the last page. This was one of the most atmospheric historical thrillers that I’ve read this year and I’m already looking forward to his next one which I hope won’t be too long in the future. Well recommended.


An excellent read which should appeal to fans of both historical fiction and crime thrillers.

Our Book Reviews Online

I’ve been looking forward to this since I read Lloyd Shepherd’s first novel, The English Monster, last year. When you loved an author’s debut novel there’s always the worry that their next book might be a disappointment, but that was definitely not a problem here because I thought The Poisoned Island was even better than The English Monster! Both novels are complete stories in themselves and it’s not necessary to read them in order, but they do have a few things in common.

She Reads Novels

The Poisoned Island successfully merges fiction with history with as many twists and turns as the narrow London lanes of the time. Despite the fastest transport being a horse, the plot moves credibly at a cracking pace. The Poisoned Island is a satisfying whodunit.

Emma Lee’s Blog