Shepherd's debut dramatises one of the Regency period's most shocking real-life crimes – the Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811, in which two families were found brutally butchered in the East End.
But this is not the novel's only subject. In a parallel plot Shepherd takes us back 250 years earlier to the picaresque tale of Billy Ablass, a piratical young man who goes to sea with Francis Drake and John Hawkins. Just how these stories are interlinked lies at the book's dark heart. In a richly atmospheric read, the real "monster" of the piece proves to be England's colonial and buccaneering past.