Finished August 10
The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd
This novel begins with an incident in Tahiti in 1769 between an English sailor and a Polynesian woman.
The majority of the novel takes place in 1812, in London, with the arrival of the ship the Solander carrying a munificence of plants from Tahiti for the King's garden at Kew. There are also flashbacks of the ship's stay in Tahiti and the interactions then between the sailors and the local people.
The same day that the ship arrives home in London, even before its cargo is unloaded, one of the sailors is dead. Discovered by chance by the chief constable for the Thames River Police, a man who has recently begun using a new policing method of investigation, the odd circumstances of his death and the ship he comes from add up to make him take the case to his magistrate Harriott.
As more men from the ship die, Horton delves deeper into the suspicion that it is something brought from Tahiti that has tied the deaths together. And whether the cups containing what looks like a type of tea near their outstretched hands has a role in their deaths.
This book has the competitive environment between the various police magistrates, the new-fangled style of policing that Horton has introduced and Harriott encourages, the botanical specimens brought home from the tropics to England, including a particularly interesting one that has drawn the attention of the sponsor, Sir Joseph Banks and his librarian Robert Brown.
Weaving historical figures like Banks, the missionary Nott, the magistrate Graham, and others into the fabric of this mysterious murder case is done skillfully and creatively, bringing us a story that flows well and captures the reader.