Blood and Sugar – Laura Shepherd-Robinson

AN ANTI-SLAVERY campaigner is brutally murdered while investigating a dark deed aboard a ship transporting slaves from Africa to America.

Tad Archer’s sister asks his childhood friend Captain Harry Corsham – now a war hero – to look into why the man was tortured, branded and killed.

Corsham risks his marriage, his reputation and his fledgling political career to venture into the cesspools of Deptford in search of answers.

He follows in Tad’s footsteps through London’s notorious 17th century slaving port to discover whether Tad had really uncovered a secret that could cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry.

Corsham finds peril in the streets and alleyways, and corruption at all levels, as well as being forced to confront his own past.

Thanks to this debut novel Laura Shepherd-Robinson is being billed as the new CJ Sansom, author of Dark Fire and the recent Tombland.

But while vividly atmospheric, Shepherd-Robinson’s novel doesn’t quite have the same all-round excellence as Sansom, undisputed master of the historical blockbuster.

She is more in the league of SJ Parris and Rory Clements, both terrific writers of highly-readable historical mystery-thrillers.

Blood and Sugar is in the main a good read, with an original premise, a complex story, several gruesome deaths and an ending that ties up all the loose ends.

But there’s a confusing number of similar characters – politicians and local worthies, sailors and slavers, slaves and former slaves – and perhaps too many plot strands.

And in the middle of the book, too much of the story involves Corsham following one or another suspect, witnessing clandestine meetings or repeatedly getting captured.

David Knights