(2014) Sara Pinborough, Jo Fletcher Books, £16.99, hrdbk, 326pp, ISBN978-1-780-87234-6
Now this is my kind of book. 326 pages, consisting of 64 chapters which focus on one of the characters from the novel, plus a prologue and an epilogue means that this sequel to Sarah Pinborough's novel Mayhem fairly rips along. Once again are in the company of Dr. Thomas Bond, a police surgeon who thinks he is finally getting over the events of the Jack the Ripper case, and the greater evil surrounding the headless torso murders. The nightmares have gone, along with his addiction to opium and laudanum and his reputation as a criminal profiler is growing, his practise is steady and he is even thinking about marriage and becoming a father, even if it is reluctantly, until the body of a badly beaten woman is found in a railway carriage and some letters come to light that reveal facts from the past that have to be the truth and make the outcome of Mayhem inclusive. The shell that evil inhabited might be dead, killed by Bond's own hands, but the evil that squirmed inside it lives on, and it has to be so, because the bodies of children are starting to be found in the river.
Murder combines historical fiction (Pinborough certainly has the knack of bringing the sights and sounds of 19th century London to life), crime fiction, supernatural horror (Pinborough is a mistress of the latter two genres given her many previous horror novels and her 'Dog-Faced Gods' trilogy and I suspect the forthcoming The Death House will plough similar furrows), and there is a fair dose of grisly horror, mystery and thriller and so much more, greater than the sum of its parts. We even get a love triangle as Bond has become fixated on marrying James Harrington's widow, despite the age gap between them, but she has other ideas about the relationship they have and she is drawn more towards her husband's old friend from America, Edward Kane, who does not seem the ideal choice for her affections, or so, as we the reader - and on Bond's side - would like to think.
My only quibble? Well, there are a few, mainly around Bond's character and character development as the plot unfolds and he plunges deeper and deeper into darker territory, although this does lead to a confusion over the cause of the changes in Bond are they due to supernatural influences and he has become the latest host for a timeless, or do they come from his inner psyche a culmination of the societal constraints placed upon him, the stress of work, and mental health problems fuelled by his previous drug addictions? Certainly it reminds me of Jonathan Aycliffe's masterly Naomi's Room and the disintegration of the male narrator in that novel. This is not an easy read, it is actually quite painful given our familiarity and liking of Bond as a character, but that is Pinborough's skills as a writer. Another quibble is actually with the novel itself as Murder feels more like the second part of a 600-page doorstopper that could have been one book rather than split into two. Although to contradict myself, I had hoped that Mayhem and Murder might be part of a trilogy but perhaps Pinborough has left herself a way back into the narrative, albeit a hundred years later as the epilogue ends the book with some alarming newspaper extracts from 2001.
Recommended, and while you do not really have to read Mayhem first, go on, treat yourself.
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