Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Book Review: Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough

Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough

Paperback, 352 pages

Published January 2015 by Jo Fletcher Books

There are certain authors who I have to be careful when I review their work not to get lost in hyperbole. In my generation of writers that doesn't happen often but Cody Goodfellow and Jeremy Robert Johnson are examples. They are not perfect but I tend to generally think the majority of their work rises to a very high level. Sarah Pinborough is quickly becoming one of those writers. This is only the fourth SP novel I've read and the first outside of the Dog-faced Gods trilogy, the first novel in that series is a rare time where a recent novel threatened to get into my top ten favorite horror novels.

I had been planning on exploring more SP novels and the clincher for reading this one was hearing a pretty nice mention of it by Brian Keene on his podcast. I don't even remember what he said but it sounded good enough I got to tracking it down.

Mayhem is a serial killer novel about (in part) the grand daddy of them all Jack the Ripper, but not just saucey Jack. I am not a ripper expert (although I have friends who are) and was not aware of the Thames Torso Killer. Another very different killer operating in the area at the same time. The main character of this novel is Thomas Bond, a real life surgeon who worked for Scotland yard investigating both of the murders.

Bond is a troubled man who is addicted to opium, this takes him to the Opium dens in the seedier sides of London. There his mind is exposed to something that leads him to a dark truth connecting the murders. Pinborough does a great job detailing history and getting the vibe of the era. The novel is historical horror that eventually gets supernatural.

If you are a total nerd for all things ripper than I could see why you might not like this novel. For one thing the Ripper is just a Maguffin, and not the focus of the novel. Second Pinbrough has to massage history a bit to tell her story. I don't think either complaint is valid. Far from an expert on the Ripper, I knew enough to see that the author was clever about making the book work on two levels. Experts on Ripper lore will get a totally different experience. The bottom line is this is a horror novel set against the back drop of the times.

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