Map of Blue Book Balloon

8 May 2014

Review: "Murder" by Sarah Pinborough

"Murder" is a sequel to Pinborough's Mayhem, and it is a worthy sequel. (If you haven't read Mayhem - and why on earth not? - be warned there are spoilers below for that book, and you should look away now, go and get a copy and read it first).

The earlier book manages to simultaneously about crimes (the Ripper and Thames Torso killings in the 19th century) but not a crime novel, Victorian and dark, but not a gothic pastiche, and horror-laden, but not a Bram-Stoker-a-like. It is also thoroughly modern in sensibility, forging soemthing quite new and I think unique in tone and outlook.

Well, "Mayhem" isn't unique now because Sarah Pinborough has done it again - indeed I think she's surpassed the earlier book, whose hero, Dr Thomas Bond, could seem slightly stilted, compared with his foil, the fantastical Jewish Russian refugee Aaron Kosminski. Here, Bond is more fully realised, more human and very much the centre of the story.

Several years have passed, and the evil that menaced London - which was ended when Bond murdered James Harrington, in league with Kosminski and the mysterious Argentine priest - has faded. Bond has finally lost the air of dread that overtook him, and Juliana, Harrington's widow, is bringing up their son in peace. Bond even has hopes of marrying her, despite the difference in their ages. But the past will not lie. The ripples of Harrington's cursed life spread outwards, and an old friend of his comes calling. Then Pinborough does something very daring, and quite brilliant - while steaming horror slowly cooks in the depths of the book (hinted at by the various press cuttings reporting gruesome discoveries and deaths), on the surface a love triangle plays out with dollops of jealousy, duty and - yes - sensuality which get all mixed up with the horror underneath.

There's no pastiche Victoriana in this book. While absolutely rooted in the time and place described, and convincingly so, the author is happy to use "modern" terms or have her characters behave in "modern" ways where it suits her (and where it suits the story). It might annoy the pedants (what doesn't?) but it works surprisingly well - perhaps, as I said above, even better than in the first book, possible because Bond is here a much more rounded character, and the centre of things. Again, he is forced to confront the possibility of the supernatural - or the alternative, that he's losing his sanity - but there are no easy answers, no Van Helsing to sort things out.

It's a rattling good read, though parts aren't, perhaps, for the squeamish.

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