Book Review: Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

blood & sugarAbout the Book

June, 1781 – An unidentified body hangs upon a hook at Deptford Dock – horribly tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark.

Some days later, Captain Harry Corsham – a war hero embarking upon a promising parliamentary career – is visited by the sister of an old friend. Her brother, passionate abolitionist Tad Archer, had been about to expose a secret that he believed could cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry. He’d said people were trying to kill him, and now he is missing…

To discover what happened to Tad, Harry is forced to pick up the threads of his friend’s investigation, delving into the heart of the conspiracy Tad had unearthed. His investigation will threaten his political prospects, his family’s happiness, and force a reckoning with his past, risking the revelation of secrets that have the power to destroy him.

And that is only if he can survive the mortal dangers awaiting him in Deptford…

Format: ebook, hardcover (371 pp.)    Publisher: Pan Macmillan/Mantle
Published: 24th January 2019        Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime, Mystery

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My Review

The extensive dramatis personae at the start of the book alerts readers to the fact there will be a large cast of characters (with some colourful names) and that they will need to keep their wits about them.  Can I add that I always love a book with a map at the front!

Harry’s investigation puts him – and, it transpires, those close to him – in danger because he’s up against individuals who don’t like people asking questions and who have no scruples about preventing them asking more.   Harry soon finds there are things people are simply too scared to talk about for fear of retribution and it becomes increasingly evident there are vested interests whose reach extends into the highest places of society and government.  What he discovers will eventually force Harry to make some difficult moral choices. ‘It was one of those moments on which a man’s future turns.  On one side certain ruin.  On the other a woman’s life, a dead man’s memory, and a gentleman’s ability to live with himself.’

The first person narration allows the reader inside the mind of Harry, complete with his traumatic war memories, guilt at past actions and sadness at the state of his marriage to wife, Caroline, who nowadays seems to find society parties more attractive than his company.  Even their young son seems incapable of bringing them together. Harry and Caroline do form a useful alliance towards the end of the book that temporarily seems to offer some hope for their future.  ‘We were like two allied generals advancing towards a common enemy, with only ancient treaties to define us.’  Personally, I would have liked more of Caroline as her brief appearance suggests an astute and intelligent mind behind the glamorous exterior.

The author does a great job of conjuring up the atmosphere of 18th century London  – the sights, sounds and smells – and of the neighbourhoods that surround it.  Anyone familiar with the urban sprawl of today’s London may find it hard to imagine a time when Deptford (‘a drunken doxy, ungainly sprawled on the banks of the Thames’) was considered ‘out of the city’ and it took two hours to travel the five miles from there by carriage to Bethnal Green.

The evil and inhumanity of the slave trade is the ever-present backdrop to the book and the long-term consequences for those who were abused (and, in some cases, for the abusers themselves – although they of course deserve it).  As one character remarks, ‘But slaving men are a breed apart.  It’s the trade that does it to them.  Deadens the goodness in the soul’.  

Blood & Sugar is a compelling historical crime mystery, replete with period atmosphere and featuring an elaborate plot, full of twists and turns, that will keep readers guessing until the final pages.  It’s an impressive debut.

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Mantle, and NetGalley.

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In three words: Atmospheric, gripping, suspenseful

Try something similar…The Angel’s Mark by S. W. Perry (read my review here)

About the Author

Laura Shepherd-RobinsonLaura Shepherd-Robinson was born in Bristol in 1976. She has a BSc in Politics from the University of Bristol and an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics. Laura worked in politics for nearly twenty years before re-entering normal life to complete an MA in Creative Writing at City University. She lives in London with her husband, Adrian. (Photo credit: Goodreads author page)

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One thought on “Book Review: Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

  1. Thank you for the review! I am always looking for a new murder mystery to read. Especially one with a map at the front!


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