Jo Fletcher Books, out now UK and US
James Harrington may be dead, but the evil that lurked within him isn’t so easily dealt with…
Sarah Pinborough’s follow-up to her historical novel Mayhem (see our review here) picks up many of the same themes of its predecessor, with self-delusion (or a lack of self-knowledge), hypocrisy and pure evil affecting all the characters in differing ways. It picks up a few years after the events of the first book, and although it would be a very good idea to read that first, Murder does stand alone, with Pinborough providing sufficient explanation of the backstory from varying perspectives.
Dr Thomas Bond, the character around whom most of the narrative flows, was a real person who did help to investigate the Ripper crimes and Pinborough has skilfully amalgamated fact and fiction to tell his tale – or at least a version of it (the final pages give a worrying indication that she may have come rather closer to the truth than we might want to think). Bond’s pursuit of James Harrington’s widow and his connection with her son, also named James, is one of the central strands, with Pinborough’s stylistic trick of writing chapters from the perspective of a named character (first person for Bond, third for others) providing context which would otherwise be lacking.
There are numerous savage deaths within these pages, some of which are described graphically, others left to the reader’s imagination (one of the last will have you wanting to shout at the page to stop the victim from walking into the trap which is set in pure Thomas Harris/Hannibal Lector style). Ironically, chances are that the fate of certain animals will upset more people than the destiny of some of the innocents! (It might be worth noting that Pinborough has taken these cases from real life as well.)
There’s a neat counterpoint between the descent into madness of one of the characters, and the recovery of another, even if the latter is only relayed to us via medical notes. The hypocrisy of late Victorian society is once again exposed, but this story is more about the characters than the milieu in which they are – indeed, perhaps one of the most horrific elements is the ease with which some of what Pinborough describes happening in the late 19th century could be occurring today.
The supernatural element is perhaps more up-front in this tale than in Mayhem, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one noticing things out of the corner of my eye after finishing this. It’s a novel which stands alongside the best of this sort of genre blending from Michael Marshall Smith or John Connolly.
Verdict: A blend of the supernatural, horror, crime and psychological profiling which makes you care about the characters before turning their lives inside out. 9/10