Confession: I'm misleading you already. See that gorgeous cover up there? It's enough to make a cover whore like myself stop, stare, and covet. But I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the story is completely worthy of this gorgeous cover (I'll get to that part in a few moments). The bad news is that this the UK cover. We heathens here in the Colonies were not deemed worthy of such gorgeousness and instead were graced with this:
Is it any wonder we rebelled against King George III? I mean, really. If taxation without representation and unattractive book covers were to be our lot in life, what did England expect?
Alright, assuming it is what's inside the cover that truly counts (and yes, it is), Mayhem is a deliciously creepy foray into the dark world of Victorian London where the city is frozen with fear as Jack the Ripper terrorizes Whitechapel. But London in the late 1880s was also victim to another vicious killer now largely lost to history. Dubbed the Thames Torso Murders, dismembered female victims began showing up in the Thames river throughout London beginning in May 1887. An astute police surgeon, one Dr. Thomas Bond, was the first to recognize that these corpses showing up in the Thames had been dismembered by someone with surgical skill and training.
Author Sarah Pinborough has unearthed this lost and disturbing tidbit of history and turned it into a compelling fictional account of Dr. Bond's investigation into the Thames Torso Murders.
Admittedly, this was an interesting journey for me. I had never read any of Pinborough's work before and was hesitant to pick up what I - erroneously, as it turns out - thought to be yet another Jack the Ripper novel. Instead of boredom, I found myself drawn in from the very first page into the thick, damp fog permeating the Gothic atmosphere of the novel as the squalid conditions of the less fortunate side of Victorian London's population immediately came alive.
Jack the Ripper, thankfully, takes the backstage to our protagonist - Dr. Thomas Bond himself - as he struggles with the limitations of the times to find the monster who is dismembering victims and dumping them in the Thames. Yet in Pinborogh's skillful hands, even the murders themselves are secondary to the character of Dr. Bond. Possessed of a brilliant mind, his empathy with victims of London's poor and disenfranchised is not an asset but a demon that haunts his every moment. How the ugliness of his world changes him and his attempts to escape the torture it inflicts upon him is a vital part of the story. Dr. Bond is a necessarily flawed character and his deterioration mirrors the investigation he doggedly pursues.
And now, for the twist. Just to throw me off balance, Pinborogh tosses in a touch - just a teensy touch, mind you - of the supernatural. Think of it as a sprinkle of garnish on a well-made dish. Too much would ruin the meal. Too little and the chef shouldn't have bothered. But the perfect small amount? Ahhhhh. Nicely done.
I've heard through the grapevine that Mayhem is to be the first in a series to feature Dr. Bond. If so, Pinborough can count me in for the ride. Nicely done. Hits bookstores tomorrow.
Author: Sarah Pinborough
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Date: January 14, 2012