Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Age Group: Adult
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review (thank you!)
A new killer is stalking the streets of London’s East End. Though newspapers have dubbed him ‘the Torso Killer’, this murderer’s work is overshadowed by the hysteria surrounding Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel crimes.
The victims are women too, but their dismembered bodies, wrapped in rags and tied up with string, are pulled out of the Thames – and the heads are missing. The murderer likes to keep them.
Mayhem is a masterwork of narrative suspense: a supernatural thriller set in a shadowy, gaslit London, where monsters stalk the cobbled streets and hide in plain sight.
When Jo Fletcher tweeted she had 5 copies of “Mayhem” to give away to bloggers, I immediately sent a “I RAISE MY HAND” tweet in reply. I had briefly checked it out and was instantly drawn in by the cover. This is my kind of cover: beautiful, eye-catching, hinting at what will happen when I open the book. I was thrilled when I was selected as one of the five to receive a copy. This time I actually read what this book was all about on Goodreads. It’s definitely different from what I’ve been reading lately, so I thought it would be a welcome change and a chance to broaden the genres I'm reading.
After finishing “Mayhem” I can safely say the cover didn’t fool me and the book delivered in every possible way. What a read!
So what’s it all about? London is in the grip of a grim, dark period that has an effect on everyone living in the area. We’re talking about the time of Jack the Ripper, the notorious serial killer.
Pinborough paints a vivid images of the effect this has on the residents of London, showing how lots of people and the press have morbid fascination with the murders. But this story isn’t about the Ripper murders, though it illustrates perfectly how a certain evil has London in its grip. Jack the Ripper is just a creation of this stifling mood, an example of how it can push people over the edge.
The main focus is on the simultaneously occurring, but lesser known Thames torso killer.
The novel is dotted with newspaper clippings, which gave me the feeling I was actually living the story, making the whole reading experience that more intense.
On to the characters, where Pinborough made some interesting and really good choices. Our main character is Dr. Bond, the coroner examining the remains of all the murder victims. His chapters are written in the first person POV, the only chapter written from this perspective (if you don’t include the diary entries of a certain other character), making him the person we follow most intimately throughout the book. The dark mood hanging over London has a more severe effect on him than on most of the other citizens, keeping him up at night and ultimately driving him to the opium dens to find some sort of relief. He immediately senses that the Thames Killer is somehow more gruesome and different, worse than the Ripper.
Others too get a few chapters, one of them Inspector Moore, who has the almost impossible task of solving the murders. We get to see the difficulties the police had to face from his perspective.
Aaron Kosminski is another important character. A sickly man plagued by nightmares and visions that give him some insight in what exactly is going on in London.
In between are chapters from the viewpoint of the victims of the Thames Killer just before they die. These give a whole other level of experiences to the reader. Pinborough writes these passages so realistically you can almost feel the fear, the despair, the sorrow, the what-if’s going around inside these women’s heads.
Then there’s the man with the waxy coat and the withered arm who shows up at the Thames Killer crime scenes and in the opium dens. How is he connected to the horrible murders?
It’s soon pretty clear that something supernatural is at work here. Can Dr. Bond, the scientist, make peace with that? Although he already knows it’s true deep down, he can’t accept it right away. I’m a scientist too, so I could relate.
Pinborough has a writing style that sucks your right into the story and doesn’t let go ‘till you finish the last page. She can make you feel things, make the book come alive somehow. I was totally feeling the mood she wanted to create here, some sort of uneasy darkness that makes you look over your shoulder more than once when walking on the street all alone. I read “Mayhem” during the cold, grey early ‘spring’ days this year (a depressing couple of weeks if you ask me) and that certainly contributed to the vibe of this book.
After reading “Mayhem”, I went online and did a bit of research on the Thames Torso Killer and Jack the Ripper. It’s really great to see that a lot of the names used in “Mayhem” are actual people who worked on these cases or who had a connection with them. The book piqued my interest and I'm a sucker for unsolved mysteries so you'll probably find me browsing the internet about these subjects in the future.
This has been a rather long review and to conclude I can only say one thing: read it! Now!
I’ll definitely be reading more of Sarah Pinborough’s work (and so should you)!