Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough—4.5 stars
As Jack the Ripper roams the streets of Whitechapel, another, even more depraved serial killer seeks his victims. The police are frustrated and baffled as more and more women’s torsos turn up, with the rest of their remains—except for their heads—often found in the Thames. This leads to the murderer’s moniker: the Thames River Killer. Dr. Thomas Bond examines the victims in an effort to discover something that will shed light on the perpetrator. Insomnia claims him to a greater extent as the months pass without answers, but the worst is yet to come. When rumors of a possible supernatural connection filter in and challenge his rational nature, insanity threatens as the menace draws near to his personal life.
Sarah Pinborough’s “Mayhem” is a chilling and engrossing horror novel set in 1880s Victorian London. During Jack the Ripper’s infamous killing spree, another, perhaps lesser-known, murderer was stalking the area and claiming similar victims. Referred to as the Thames Torso Murders, these homicides likewise went unsolved and were in fact more hideous in their execution than even those of the Ripper. Pinborough uses this bit of history as the premise of her novel, creating an unsettling backstory for this macabre murder mystery. She draws upon historical figures to craft her tale, including Police Surgeon Dr. Thomas Bond and Ripper suspect Aaron Kosminski. The shifting viewpoint of the narrative adds to the disconcerting effect of the story itself by exploring several characters throughout the novel, all of which are related in the third person except for the accounts of Dr. Bond, which implement first-person narration. The book is similar in nature to the Order of the Sanguines series written by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, with a mature adult target audience. There is a certain degree of gory description, but it is not overwhelming and is handled well, relying more on psychological suspense than on a shock factor. Reproductions of authentic newspaper articles concerning the killings appear interspersed between the chapters and enhance the historical feel of the novel. Readers who enjoy atmospheric suspense and mystery with a supernatural element and a Victorian London setting will want to add “Mayhem” to their reading list.