Author: Sarah Pinborough
No. of Pages: 400
Origins: Quercus Books
Release Date: 14 January 2014
Bottom Line: The combination of fact and fantasy does not merge well together.
“Already frustrated in their attempts to capture serial murderer Jack the Ripper, the detectives of Scotland Yard are suddenly confronted with a new monster, dubbed the Torso Killer for his habit of leaving behind neatly wrapped parcels of his victims’ body parts, minus the heads. With the terrible increase in mutilated corpses to examine, the highly regarded police surgeon Dr. Thomas Bond has lost the ability to sleep. True, a growing dependency on opium affords him some solace in his loneliest and most desperate hours, but he also fears the grip of the drug.
During Dr. Bond’s nightly tours of London’s underbelly in search of pharmaceutical respite from the horrors that plague him by day, he encounters a mysterious Jesuit priest scouring the opium dens himself, clearly in search of someone—or something. The doctor at first rejects the strange priest’s unnatural theories about the Torso Killer as an affront to scientific thought. But over time Dr. Bond’s opium-addled mind begins to crumble under the growing impression that there might be some awful truth to the Jesuit’s ideas.
As the police struggle to capture two serial killers, the troubled forensics expert begins to suspect that he may actually know the Torso Killer personally. If he is right, Dr. Bond will need all the strength he can muster to save his small circle of loved ones from falling victim to the bloody depravities of this twisted creature.”
Thoughts: There are almost two stories at play in Mayhem – one about the chaos caused by the Ripper murders, and one about Dr. Bond. The Torso Killer simply connects the two stories with a mixture of supernatural creepiness and unbelievable factuality. Unfortunately, Ms. Pinborough spends too little time on the Ripper murders, too much time on the Torso Killer, and even more time on Bond’s afterwork activities. Just when momentum builds for either murder investigation, the action shifts to Bond’s side inquiries, something made less than exciting by the fact that they involve an obsessed cleric, a mentally unstable immigrant, and heavy reliance on a strong psychotropic drug. The dream-like quality of these portions of the story fails to complement the gruesome truth behind the other probes.
Saving Mayhem from becoming a complete disaster is Ms. Pinborough’s excellent prose. She excels at bringing to life all of the filthy, odorific elements of Victorian London. This serves to heighten the grimness of life on the streets and the challenges faced by the investigators as well as offset the flights of fancy brought about by the mysterious evil entity at work in London.
In Mayhem, the combination of fact and supernatural fantasy does not coalesce into a seamless, interesting story. There is too large a gap between the two, requiring a bit more suspension of disbelief than readers will be willing to expend. Bond is at first a sympathetic figure in all of his exhaustion but quickly turns into a tragic figure as his reliance on self-administered opium increases. So much time is spent on Bond’s visits to the opium dens that they seem to become the focal point of the narrative rather than the two murder investigations. The narrative suffers as a result, and the entire story remains a mish-mash of genres that never joins into a story that fully captures a reader’s imagination and attention.