Having met Sarah Pinborough at a few conventions, I’d long wanted to check out her work. I dipped into her ‘Tales From the Kingdoms’ series recently, but found that the retold fairytale sub-genre, which seems to be so popular these days, simply didn’t appeal to me.
‘Mayhem’, a supernatural murder mystery, which runs contemporary with the Ripper killings, was much more my speed.
It’s possibly more down to my failings as a reader, but I always have trouble when a book skips back and forth between various times and locales. I find I have to force myself to take note of dates, times and places when they’re given at the head of each chapter. It’s a perfectly acceptable storytelling method, when the author wants to reveal information to the reader in a different sequence to that in which the events actually took place, but the fact that I constantly had to skip back to the beginning of chapters to remind myself where and when I was, made it more difficult for me to get into the book.
Once I had trained myself to be aware of where and when each chapter is set in relation to the previous one, I soon found myself caught up in the story of Dr. Thomas Bond, Police Surgeon, as he investigates the case of “The Torso Killer”, based on a series of real murders that were overshadowed at the time by the more famous case of “Jack the Ripper”.
Dr. Bond is a flawed man, who relies more and more on the opium dens to ease his insomnia. There he encounters a mysterious priest, with insane theories about the supernatural nature of the Torso Killer—theories he finds it harder and harder to discount. Eventually he forms an alliance with this priest and a Polish immigrant, Aaron Kosminski, whose previous experiences with the horror at the heart of the novel have left him with such a terror of water that he refuses to either drink it, or bathe.
Eventually, Dr. Bond discovers, to his horror, that he may know the murderer, and our three unlikely heroes have to find a way to prove it conclusively, before they can take the necessary action.
One of the main strengths of the book is that the “monster” is never allowed to become a character in its own right. You witness its actions, but you never become privy to its thoughts and motivations, which is a very effective way of using our natural terror of the unknown to create a chilling atmosphere. It’s based on an obscure slavic vampire variant, albeit Ms. Pinborough has read different versions of the legends than the ones I found online, as there were differences.
Dr. Thomas Bond has great series potential, so I’m hoping we’ll see him again soon.