Series: Mayhem, #2 | Genre: Crime/horror, supernatural | Format: ARC (hardcover) | Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books | Publication date: May 1st 2014 | My rating: 4/5
Dr Thomas Bond, Police Surgeon, thinks he has finally recovered from the terrible events of years before. He no longer has nightmares about Jack the Ripper – or the other monster, an enemy even more malign who hid in Jack’s shadow and haunted the streets of London at the end of the 1880s. He has made his peace with his part in bringing calm back to the East End.
His fame as a profiler of criminals is increasing, his practice is steady, and Dr Bond is beginning to dream of marriage, and children. Life is good.
But when a woman’s body is found brutally beaten to death in a railway carriage and a letter written years before is discovered by the police, the past he has fought so hard to put behind him begins to taint the present, and he can no longer fight his new suspicions.
Just when he thought life had returned to normal, Dr Bond is about to discover that some things will not remain buried: once again his uncanny enemy is loose on the streets of London… and this time Dr Bond is alone.
Important Note: Below will be certain spoilers for Mayhem – if you haven’t yet read it you may want to do so first!
Being the sequel to last year’s Mayhem (see my review here), Murder is every bit as dark, atmospheric and unsettling as the book it follows on from. It even achieves a deeper, more intimate level of Creepy thanks to bringing all the horror not just to its protagonist’s doorstep, but beyond it and all the way into the house.
…But there, I’m treading that fine spoiler line, so I will backtrack a little. Ahem!
Dr Thomas Bond is not your squeaky-clean horror story hero. He’s pretty far from being the well-mannered, safe and dependable man his closest friends and loved ones think he is, despite being a notably successful Police Surgeon. When we met him in Mayhem, the good doctor had an opium addiction, and that was only the start of his problems.
Here, we return to his life a considerable amount of time after the events that apparently ended the Thames Torso Killer’s spree have been put behind him. Bond has stopped taking opium and cleaned up his act, and is looking forward to settling down with a prospective wife (the widow of James Harrington, who you may remember from the first book…). But his problems are a long way from being behind him for good, and I don’t just mean those of the horror-story variety…
Before I talk about the horror aspect, I’d like to highlight just how well-written this book’s protagonist is. Bond’s desire for a safe, normal, nothing-going-bump-in-the-night kind of life is made clear enough that my sympathy for him when everything eventually starts, well, bumping again was stronger than it would have been if he was still in the same position he was the last time I encountered him. The horror aspects of the story are pretty inextricably linked to that downfall, of course, but there’s no question that Bond’s own choices and decisions play their part as well. The moral grey areas here are pretty murky indeed, and Sarah Pinborough plays them out well enough that I was doomed to be hooked from start to finish.
That questionable morality goes beyond just the path taken by the protagonist, though. Thanks to the occasional, well-placed POV switch we get a better look at the motivations of a couple of characters who could arguably be just as responsible as Bond for the doctor’s eventual downward spiral – but what’s clever about this angle is that neither are ever unquestionably The Bad Guy. For example, I didn’t much care for Edward Kane, the American who becomes Bond’s rival for Juliana Harrington’s love – his earliest scenes with her show him to be arrogant and not a little bit selfish, perhaps – but as the story progresses and we see his feelings become something much deeper and more heartfelt, it gets harder to boo and hiss at him. (Damn it.)
Now, on to the horror side of things. Once again, our Spine-chilling Evil Entity is on the job, and this time it’s not going to be nearly so easy for Bond to defeat it…
I won’t say much more about the plot here, but trust me. That downward spiral of his is a hard, painful one to witness. Not to mention pretty damn icky at times – but as with Mayhem, the creepy effectiveness of Pinborough’s boogeyman of choice is unquestionably. More than once, I shuddered while reading this book. Job done, there.
All truth be told, though (and I confess I am being nitpicky, because I have to be) for all of its doom and creepy gloom, I felt like there were occasional dry patches in the narrative… though maybe that’s the effectiveness of the Victorian-era setting and style the author went with? I’m still uncertain, but the fact itself is what it is, and so Murder is just shy of getting full marks – but don’t let that put you off! I absolutely approve of her use of a lesser-known mythical monster in this story; it’s a breath of fresh air (well, fetid air that stinks of blood, really, but you get the idea) in a genre that’s got more creeps and monsters than you can shake a gentleman’s cane at. Which, as I see it, is a pretty appropriate description of Sarah Pinborough’s writing in general.
Go forth, read, and be deliciously disturbed.