Seven years after the Year of the Ripper and the lesser known Thames Torso Murders (as chronicled in the previous book, Mayhem), Police Surgeon Doctor Thomas Bond is finally beginning to reassemble his life from the fragments left after the latter’s conclusion. Despite not having been able to reveal the extent of his involvement to anyone, he hopes to be able to put the past behind him and perhaps even marry Juliana, widow of James Harrington, the unfortunate figure at the centre of previous events.
Unfortunately the past will not lie down and be forgotten. When Edward Kane -American traveller and former friend of Harrington – turns up in London everything begins to unravel and Doctor Bond begins to fear that the horror may be returning…
Whilst fitting perfectly with the previous volume, Mayhem, Murder has a very different feel and is if anything darker and bleaker than its predecessor despite the fact that at first there is slightly less unspeakable butchery going on. One of the novel’s major strengths is the way that the reader is privy to Doctor Bond’s innermost thoughts, illustrating perfectly the way that suspicion, jealousy and envy can be just as destructive as a malevolent Upir, the evil spirit ultimately responsible for the eponymous mayhem of the previous novel.
So convincing is Bond’s inner dialogue that the reader cannot help but empathise with him even when it becomes clear that the choices he starts to make are increasingly the wrong ones as his judgement becomes skewed by bitterness. The way that Bond slowly slips back into his old ways, self administering laudanum and opium, has a terrifying inevitability about it, made all the more horrifying by the fact that his intelligent compassion remains throughout the process.
Outside the tortured brain of the novel’s protagonist, the late Victorian world is well drawn and not laboured. Unlike some historical novels the obvious research done here at no point overwhelms the narrative. The result of this is that the reader can slip easily into a 19th century London that feels simultaneously authentic and yet also familiar to those acquainted with the city in the 21st. The characters aside from Doctor Bond are all well drawn and convincing – and the glimpses we have of their own agendas via chapters interspersed with Doctor Bond’s first person narrative help the reader get a clearer idea of what is going on and plant the suspicion that Bond himself is becoming an increasingly unreliable narrator as the novel progresses.
As with all great horror, readers will find themselves hoping against hope that the characters can avoid their inexorable fates and yet even when this proves impossible the conclusion has a symmetry about it that despite the nature of the story is narratively pleasing.
Even though Mayhem works just as well as a stand-alone novel, Murder is a more than satisfying follow up that adds to it and provides the whole story with a deeper and richer conclusion.