Shepherd’s second title, The Poisoned Island (Washington Square Press), had an incredibly intriguing premise, but it dragged. The action got lost in chapter after chapter of descriptive narrative filled with back story, as opposed to dialogue and sequences. On the plus side, and at the risk of a vast spoiler alert, there is a tremendously intelligent juxtaposition between addiction to a substance and to a way of life.
Set with the invasion of Tahiti by the English–and invasion is probably the incorrect, impolite term here, as evidenced by their exploration and later gathering of tropical plants; of course, once the captain of the ship rapes the daughter of the tribal king, it’s an invasion–the story follows the drama back in England surrounding the mysterious deaths of several members of the ship’s crew when they return from the island addicted to “leaf.”
At times both compassionate and brutal, the story simply didn’t need four hundred pages to dole out the details. It was, however, a very human book, and I kept reading in hopes that the right people were brought to justice, or at least suffered at the hands of karma. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for the crew who helped spread contagious diseases, venereal and otherwise, among one of the many, many cultures that the English destroyed throughout the reign of the empire.
One very important and enjoyable aspect of the book was Shepherd’s attention to accuracy. Both this book and his first title, The English Monster, were very obviously well researched, and the author’s knowledge of not only the setting and geography but also the time period are very evident.
Fans of highly detailed stories complete with minute descriptions will possibly enjoy the book, if they can endure it. The Poisoned Island goes on sale on January 14th.