Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough

I recently finished reading Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough which is a dark and creepy tale set on the Victorian streets of London.  The story is a sinister twist on the real life murders carried out by the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper and it focuses on a parallel story of murder where women’s torsos and other body parts are found not only in the Thames but in other sites around London.  The premise for the story revolves around London being gripped in the throes of a dark and evil presence that thrives on fear and death and causes chaos in it’s wake.  A supernatural creature, based on stories of old, folklore and myth.  A creature that has travelled across Europe and into London.

The story is told in a number of voices including a couple of the victims but the primary narrator is Dr Bond, one of the doctors who was actually involved in post mortem examinations of the real life victims of the Ripper.  The names of the victims and detectives have also been incorporated into the story and that and the fact that the Ripper was never caught all adds to the powerful impact of the story.

Dr Bond has become obsessed with these two serial killers and is finding himself less inclined to sleep as his mind races.  At first seeking the solace and oblivion of drugs he is now falling prey to the delirium which the opium brings, and spending more and more time under it’s influence in the opium dens that he sneaks off to when his duties end.  It’s on one such night that he becomes intrigued with a man who seems to be searching the dens for something or someone and Dr Bond in turn tries to seek this stranger out.

At the same time we find out about Aaron.  Aaron has been chased from his home country (Poland) to London by his strange visions and is now plagued by his dreams and predictions.  His strange and solitary behaviour leads him to become one of the prime suspects in the Ripper case and yet he too is searching the streets for the darkness that possesses London.

And so we have three strangers who become entangled together in a search for the evil that is seeking it’s next victim.

Sarah Pinborough seems to be an author who with fairly few words can throw you into any scene – whether that be in one of her twisted retold fairy tales or on one of the grim and foggy streets of London following in the footsteps of a madman as he pursues his victims.  She manages to conjure a London split in two where abject poverty is common and where people have sunk so low that any form of depravity will barely give them a moments thought.  We find ourselves traversing unlit and gloomy alleyways, slums and opium dens and then on the reverse side in polite conversation with the doctors and top brass of the day.

I loved that the author manages to convey not only the sense of growing unrest but also the rise in terror as the streets are seemingly stalked by two madmen whose crimes seem to be increasing in boldness and bloodiness.  Then of course there’s the mystery not only of Jack but the Torso killer and the eventual reveal of his identity.  I found myself at one point randomly jumping from suspect to suspect in a rather silly fashion until the real identity was revealed – and then, oh the chills.  There is one particular scene – well, actually two, where I was really gripped with something akin to horror, one was a scene where a young man, on a tour of Europe, stops to take refreshment from a stream, the other was in quite a different setting, a dinner party at a rather well to do abode where Dr Bond believes he is confronting the murderer – I can’t say any more without giving away spoilers but with both these scenes I was completely gripped.  Plus in the following chapters, after Bond believes that he has unwittingly revealed himself to the killer and is therefore likely to be the next victim, the depiction of the rising terror that he experiences is perfectly portrayed and gave me the goosebumps.  That’s the other thing that I was thinking about this author. She perfectly ascribes emotions and thoughts to the characters.  I realise that probably sounds obvious but it’s not always the case and it’s not as simple to achieve as it sounds.  The Dr in his fear practically ran to his room – and barred it – and even though that’s such a simple thing to write it’s how most people would react in that situation and so the simplicity of it is perfect because it feels honest and realistic when you read it.  You end up thinking ‘that’s what I’d do’.

In terms of criticisms.  I didn’t really have any personally.  I suppose if you’re looking for something that is purely a mystery you may not like the supernatural element or maybe this won’t be quite enough on the horror front but I thought it was a really good combination.

This was a really gripping story, elegantly written with a creepy twist on a very real tale of horror that remains unsolved to this day.  I understand there is to be a further story which I will definitely read.

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12 Responses to “Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough”

  1. lipsyy

    Sounds great!

  2. Cath

    I thought this was an absolutely excellent book and can’t wait for the next one. Good review!

    • lynnsbooks

      I know – and not long to wait I don’t think! I really like Sarah Pinborough – don’t know whether you enjoy fairy tales retold but she’s done an absolutely lovely twisted trilogy – Poison, Charm and Beauty. Very good reads.
      Lynn 😀

      • Cath

        I’m not mad about retold fairy tales, no. But I’m always open to suggestions so will check it out anyway as you said the magic word – ‘twisted’. LOL

      • lynnsbooks

        Yeah, twisted, Pinborough has definitely come up with something for all three characters in this trilogy and they’re all set in the same ‘fairy’ universe and interlink. Not that you have to read them all, but I just like that if you’ve read the first the second definitely has connections.
        Lynn 😀

  3. TBM

    Oooo, I would like this one. Can’t believe it’s still not solved, but it makes for entertaining stories.

  4. jdbookworm

    I will be getting this soon 😀

    • lynnsbooks

      It’s really good. I love tales that incorporate real life events and this has the Ripper – pretty gruesome but also like a train wreck that you can’t help staring at!
      Lynn 😀

  5. Murder by Sarah Pinborough |

    […] a series by Sarah Pinborough, a series that started with a creepy and dark first instalment called Mayhem.  I think this could be read as a standalone to be honest although I would recommend reading the […]

  6. ‘MOST WANTED’ | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Mayhem and Murder by Sarah Pinborough – scary films!!  These two books would make a perfectly delicious horror/thriller dark gothic Victorian creepy chill inducing pair of movies.  Fingers crossed. […]

  7. Oranges and lemons, Say the bells of St. Clement’s… | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Mayhem and Murder by by Sarah Pinborough – gothic horror on the streets of London – what’s not to love! […]

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