Mayhem, by Sarah Pinborough

Series: Mayhem, #1 | Genre: Crime/horror, supernatural | Format: Kindle | Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books | Publication date: January 1st 2013 | My rating: 4/5

When a rotting torso is discovered in the vault of New Scotland Yard, it doesn’t take Dr Thomas Bond, Police Surgeon, long to realise that there is a second killer at work in the city where, only a few days before, Jack the Ripper brutally murdered two women in one night.

Though just as gruesome, this is the hand of a colder killer, one who lacks Jack’s emotion.

And, as more headless and limbless torsos find their way into the Thames, Dr Bond becomes obsessed with finding the killer. As his investigations lead him into an unholy alliance, he starts to wonder: is it a man who has brought mayhem to the streets of London, or a monster?

I like me some history, now and then. When it comes to fantasy, I also enjoy some alternative history/historical fiction – but I tend to be pickier about the subject matter in those cases than I am with fantasy in general. When I read the blurb for Mayhem, however, I had to have it.

There have been more versions of the story of Jack the Ripper than you can shake a stick at, but while he’s namechecked here, he isn’t the focus of this story. Pinborough goes for the serial-killing underdog, focusing instead on the Thames Torso Killer – which, until now, I hadn’t heard of before. That alone was probably reason enough to give this book a try. And how glad am I that I did.

Another approach to horror stories that I tend to appreciate is picking lesser known myths or monsters to write about, and again Pinborough scores points for this. I won’t give away too much about her angle where that’s concerned, since I might consider it a bit of a spoiler if I was reading this review… But trust me, it’s fascinating (and downright creepy) stuff. Her handling of the horror aspects of this story hit all the right reading-with-the-lights-on buttons for me, which I don’t consider an easy thing to achieve.

More than this, however, her book is simply thoroughly engaging. The Victorian London setting, done right, can be full of all kinds of spooky atmosphere to lose yourself in. Pinborough does it right. (Between her and Emma Newman, I’m really getting a taste back for this stuff.) From the comfortable homes of the wealthy to the gaslit streets of Whitechapel and the opium dens, nowhere here is safe from the danger that Doctor Bond is is determined to put a stop to.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the doctor for a moment. Flawed characters are always more interesting than the ones who do no wrong, and it doesn’t get much more flawed than a doctor who’s addicted to opium. In a nice twist to the plot, Bond’s addiction is more than just a hindrance to his work. When it comes to catching the killer, it’s exactly the opposite… That said, Pinborough handles the addiction factor well. While it never fully incapacitates him, it’s clear from the outset that Bond does have a problem, and by the end of the book I was as curious to find out what comes next for him in this regard, as well as getting into his next creepy adventure (happily there will be a followup to this book).

There was sympathy to be had for most of the major characters here – and yes, that includes the ‘bad guy’. That’s never an easy thing to balance, but here it’s almost inevitable. Read the book and I’m sure you’ll agree with me… Anyway, it is indeed a few of these characters who help to bring the story fully to life. As with Bond’s opium problem, the underlying theme here seems to be one of inner demons, or personal darkness. Certainly, it’s all but impossible to catch a killer such as this without embracing those things, and Bond isn’t alone in that. Aaron Kosminski, the troubled soul who catches on to the nature of the killer before those who are actually hunting him, and the priest who shows up determined to stop the killings – by any means necessary – are not without their own problems, and aren’t exactly the likeliest (and in the case of the priest, not the most likeable) of allies. But together they make this story, and their quest, far more intriguing than it might otherwise have been. To be certain, I wasn’t at all sure of getting a good outcome.

…Come to think of it, I’m still not sure we did. I suppose I’ll find out when Murder, the aforementioned follow-up, is released. Clever author is clever…

So. Another one for the Success! pile. If you haven’t read this, I’d thoroughly recommend doing so.

As for the rest of Sarah Pinborough’s work, I will definitely be working my way through it after this. Kudos!

One thought on “Mayhem, by Sarah Pinborough

  1. I can’t wait to read this! You should definitely read her fairytale reworkings – they’re really lovely and really twisted at the same time!
    Lynn 😀

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