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Mary Kelly lies dead upon her bed... Her sorrowful eyes still hold captive, the agony of her fate. Anger, and fear walk side by side as the populace of London demand justice for the slain. Is it a single mad man or is there a bloody political game being played out in the grime filled streets of the old City? The authorities are powerless to stop the bloodletting and call for a new kind of law. William Harkness, former officer of the 66th Regiment of Foot will join the hunt. His task is not to bring an insane killer to court, his hands are not tied by the laws of the day.
William Harkness is the killer of killers, the assassin of evil...
I have long held a fascination for the Jack the Ripper tale; gruesome as it is, its the mystery that surrounds the deaths of at least five women, that grip me, and the fact that the identity of the killer is still unknown. Its a tale that has spawned many a theory as to who the killer was and why these women were killed. Conspiracy theories abound, but the fact remains, no one has ever been able to prove beyond a doubt who and why these women were killed. The dark, dirty streets and alleys of Victorian East London, are conjured whenever anyone speaks Jack the Ripper's name, keeping the macabre interest in these murders alive, even more than a hundred years after they happened.
When I heard that Mr Southworth was writing a thriller, based on the Ripper, I was excited to download my copy, expecting dark alleys, foggy black nights, dirty streets filled with urchins, and carriages with mysterious gentlemen lurking inside, ready to lure a woman into its evil interior. And happily, I am pleased to report, that's pretty much what I got.
The author starts off by describing the depravity of London and the origins of the Robert Peel's Metropolitan Police, and then we view the first murder through the eyes of a little stray dog, who stumbles upon the murder taking place. The author cleverly shows the reader what the dog sees. He doesn't understand it, but through his senses, it smells blood - and danger - and flees, terrified, into the night.
The dog watched as the blade went to work. What was once an attractive woman was turned into mere lumps of flesh. Then at last the shadowy figure ceased its butchery and after carefully wrapping each bloodied remnants of its victim, walked towards the door. The dog shook violently and whimpered with fear. The figure stopped and looked at the wretched beast and then stretched out a hand. Two tender pats to the head were delivered.
"Good dog," whispered the figure, and then the shadow walked away.
Southworth's central character is a war hero, Captain Harkness, a young soldier who was injured in Afghanistan, saving the life of a young private. He returns to England to recoup and some years later, he is sought out by Inspector Abberline, mainly for his reputation, and Harkness is given full licence to seek out the Ripper and exterminate him. William Harkness, turns out to be a regular customer of poor Mary Kelly, whom we know received the most horrific treatment from the Ripper, in her own home. Shocked and horrified by Mary's horrendous death, Harkness agrees to Abberline's proposal. He wants to get the man who killed her, and was killing all the others.
Harkness is a brooding hero. He has seen and experienced terrible things as a soldier, which makes him a good candidate for the man to lead the task force against the Ripper, and if there are more in league with the Ripper, his gang. Southworth's hero is a deep character, with a dark side as most broody heroes have, and he soon forms his own force, with men from both the police force and his past as a soldier. We get to know the characters and we are interested in them. One gets the feeling that we will get to know more about them in the second and third books.
Mr Southworth is not afraid to write bloody scenes, however he cleverly crafts his words to create a picture of the event without using graphic images of gore and blood. He is able, with great subtlety, create the brutality of murder, with little words needed, but still managing to conjure an appropriate atmosphere, that clings to the pages like a dark mist. Less is more, in this case, and its perfect.
Also interwoven into the story of this hunt for the killer Ripper, is the story of Harkness' lost love, and the difficult relationship he has with his father. There was one particular scene where I was close to tears, urging William on in my head to do take the olive branch. The beauty of this book is that it is has a great plot, even if the author has taken liberties with the facts, its appropriate and fits in nicely with the events of the time. It also has a nice little subplot, with William's father and an old girlfriend of his, adding depth to William's persona. I also enjoy the other characters, especially Obadiah, who has known William, been in his father's service, for years.
Mr Southworth has done an excellent job crafting this book. It has an authentic feel and he uses the language of the time so that the dialogue feels authentic too. The book starts a little higgledy-piggledy with the time line, but once into the meat of the story, it develops fast, leaving this reader wanting more as I finally force myself to close my kindle for bedtime. The ending is a crescendo, with a plot twist that makes you bite your nails. Some people are not always who one might think they are and the ending finishes in such a way that paves the road for the next book, which i can't wait to read. This book compares favourable to that excellent Ripper Street series, and would also make a brilliant TV series too.
I would recommend this book to those who love late Victorian thrillers and crime stories and also to anyone who likes a great yarn. Its mighty good!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Southworth comes from a sleepy little town in the centre of England, called Nuneaton. I have spent most of his life there apart from a few years. Essentially a family man at heart, writing gives him the opportunity to spend quality time with his wife and children. Before he became an author he had tried his hands at many professions. For a brief time he was in the army, serving in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Then he tried his hand at engineering and finally retail management. Eventually, redundancy called and he decided to devote his time to writing, which was soon to become his new occupation, thanks to his wife who encouraged him to take up the mantle of an author. Currently he has five novels completed, the last of which is 'The Reaper's Breath', which is the first novel in a series of three. The series is set in Victorian London, and centres on the infamous Jack the Ripper.
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