by Sarah Pinborough
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Reviewed by: Megan | Source: Publicity Agency
Already frustrated in their attempts to capture serial murderer Jack the Ripper, the detectives of Scotland Yard are suddenly confronted with a new monster, dubbed the Torso Killer for his habit of leaving behind neatly wrapped parcels of his victims’ body parts, minus the heads. With the terrible increase in mutilated corpses to examine, the highly regarded police surgeon Dr. Thomas Bond has lost the ability to sleep. True, a growing dependency on opium affords him some solace in his loneliest and most desperate hours, but he also fears the grip of the drug.
During Dr. Bond’s nightly tours of London’s underbelly in search of pharmaceutical respite from the horrors that plague him by day, he encounters a mysterious Jesuit priest scouring the opium dens himself, clearly in search of someone—or something. The doctor at first rejects the strange priest’s unnatural theories about the Torso Killer as an affront to scientific thought. But over time Dr. Bond’s opium-addled mind begins to crumble under the growing impression that there might be some awful truth to the Jesuit’s ideas.
As the police struggle to capture two serial killers, the troubled forensics expert begins to suspect that he may actually know the Torso Killer personally. If he is right, Dr. Bond will need all the strength he can muster to save his small circle of loved ones from falling victim to the bloody depravities of this twisted creature.
Jack the Ripper has become a familiar boogeyman across genre fiction, with explanations for the unsolved crimes attributed to psychopaths, aliens, dinosaurs, and demons, but in Sarah Pinborough’s MAYHEM, she applies supernatural influence to a second killer operating in London, one whose crimes are overshadowed by the Ripper in number, but whose sins might be greater. This book is a lot like an old-fashioned roller-coaster, with a long, slow climb ratcheting up the tension before the mystery actually takes over and sends the reader on a ride.
At one point late in the novel, Dr. Thomas Bond compares himself to Hamlet as he waffles over taking action. Bond is an indecisive man in general, and I found his sections in the first 150 pages very dense, and a little hard to slog through. Once he moves out of the role of observer, though, and works with an unlikely team to hunt the killer, then the chilly air his perspective has cultivated wraps itself tight around the reader for a proper thrill. I had some difficulty tracking the structure of the novel, as it jumps around in time as well as narrator. Only Dr. Bond’s sections are in first person, and ‘assigning’ sections of the book to other characters seems unnecessary since they’re in third person, but that’s a stylistic choice, and once I caught on to the rhythm of it, I found it less distracting.
One of Bond’s allies in the fight against this peculiar evil, Polish Aaron Kosminski, is the most captivating character in the novel. He’s plagued by visions, a so-called ‘gift’ from his grandmother, and after seeing the creature behind the Torso Killer, he stops bathing or drinking water, the water imagery from the nightmare turning all H2O into something repellant to him. Pinborough does an excellent job showing Aaron’s suffering, his increasing alienation from his family, and his hope for release from the torment. I was also drawn to poor Elizabeth Jackson, sent off the rails when she gets involved with the wrong man, and whose life is over before the book even begins.
MAYHEM does take a while to build momentum, but once it gains speed, you won’t want to put it down.
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About the author
- Deadly Destinations: Gina Rosati & win AURACLEAugust 8, 2012