This is not a story about Jack the Ripper. The year is 1888 and London is living in fear and with a morbid fascination of the serial killer but there is another killer on the loose. When remains are discovered on the construction site for Scotland Yard, police are eager to pin them on Jack. But when more parts are found, it becomes clear to Dr Thomas Bond that the deaths are not connected. The doctor, in a bid to overcome his insomnia, spends his nights in the city’s opium dens. One night he observes a strange man who watches the addicts as they slumber; a man who could be the link to solving the Thames Torso Murders as they were to become known.
“What I seek – the thing I seek – brings mayhem and wickedness in its wake, spreading it like this choking fog across the city. It runs in the water of the river and it will destroy men’s souls.”
For a year so well known for Jack the Ripper, it is interesting to note that there were other murders, just as terrifying, taking place within London. The concept of Mayhem lies within the sense of “mayhem and wickedness” that spread throughout the city. That something else, an ancient and dark evil, may have influenced those already criminally inclined, to act out. Jack is just a side story, as although Dr Bond was involved in both cases, this is a slightly more supernatural theory behind the Thames Torso Murders, based on historical events.
I’m pretty sure all the newspaper clippings within the text are taken from actual historical records. Dr Bond’s observations on Jack the Ripper definitely are, and a few of the others can be found amongst those collated by Ripper enthusiasts. I kind of love old newspaper reports so this was a nice touch, although they have been cropped down. I definitely think it will appeal to fans of Lloyd Shepherd’s style of historical fiction with a twist.
The main problem for me was that the story lost momentum about half way through. At the start of part two, it is pretty much revealed who and what is responsible for the crimes. Sometimes I don’t mind this, but there wasn’t enough suspense in Dr Bond’s investigation. He gets an inkling quite quickly but dismisses it and I started to get annoyed that he wasn’t following his instincts.
The beauty of these kinds of books is that they introduce you to little moments of history you might otherwise overlook and I find they lead me into reading up more on the subject. I went on to find out more about Dr Bond; he really was an insomniac who was driven to narcotics. There is a lovely note from Sarah in the preface on fictionalising historical figures:
Personally, if someone chooses to breathe life into me again, between the pages of a book a hundred years after I die, I hope that whatever is left of me in the wind and the rain would smile a little, and take whatever changes they made to my life with good humour.
Mayhem is published by Jo Fletcher Books, an imprint of Quercus, and will be available in hardback and ebook formats from 25th April 2013. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.