What better day to reanimate The Crimes of Heaven and Hell than Halloween 2014? I’m excited to have an announcement regarding the series to post soon, and of course, many new reviews. So, without further ado, let’s rock the darkness with a review of Ross Lockhart’s Tales of Jack the Ripper:
Jack the Ripper—the name claims one of our culture’s eternal enigmas, at first calling to mind images almost innocent, a magician-like figure in a top hat, almost campy enough for a neighborhood Halloween costume. Almost—because in a time when the Internet (a term itself becoming as problematic and borderline anachronistic as “TV”) makes every image that ever existed accessible in an instant, the photos of his victims still hold their own on the shock scale. If you’re over 18 and feeling cocky, Google an image search of “Mary Jane Kelly” and you’ll get shredded faces interspersed amongst nineteenth century photos of a woman in a dress along with a few color stills from the movie From Hell. You’ll also get the infamous crime scene image of a torn apart body lying on a bed. An appetizer of organs sits next to it on a side table. You can find all this with the SafeSearch on.
I find it odd that an enigma so deeply stitched into the dark side of popular history hasn’t had even more attention in movies, television, and books. Recently, however, editor Ross Lockhart of Word Horde has revisited the Ripper and his world in his anthology Tales of Jack the Ripper. The anthology brandishes nineteen razor sharp stories (including a few poems) from the horror genre’s most striking authors. With a knack for picking up on good pacing, Lockhart’s editing brings a heart-pounding rhythm to the sequence in which the stories are offered. From the opening poem “Whitechapel Autumn”, to “Silver Kisses”, the poem that is the anthology’s coda, the reader rides the blades of a host of shadowed imaginings about who the Ripper was, is, and may yet be.
All of the anthology’s stories put an original and intriguing spin on the figure of Red Jack. Some even more noteworthy include Ed Kurtz’s Hell Broke Loose, wherein the author explores the possibility of a connection between Jack the Ripper and the early American serial killer, the Servant Girl Annihilator. A major part of its force comes from the author’s skill in painting a historically detailed nineteenth century Austin, contrasting the affluence of the wealthy estate owners with the squalor of the booming red-light district that accompanied the city’s rise. Told from the point of view of a pharmacist’s son with an over fondness for whiskey and uncontrollable obsessions, the story treats the reader to exquisite character development and finely distilled horrific prose.
Another standout is Silvia Moreno Garcia’s Abandon All Flesh, wherein a young teenage girl finds herself enamored with the wax figure of Jack the Ripper in a museum. Her fascination with the murderer accompanies her coming of age and realization that young men are far less than they’re built up to be, with horrific results accompanying her insight.
Although many of the stories delve into the oft asked question about the Ripper’s true identity, a number of them also explore the identities of the victims and the effects of the famous episode’s legacy on future centuries. Laird Barron’s Termination Dust takes the Ripper motif to contemporary Alaska, and Something About Dr. Tumblety, by Patrick Tumblety, explores what life might be like for the infamous murderer’s progeny.
I encourage any fan of horror, history, and historical fiction, to pick up a copy of this killer anthology, well worth the read. As a bonus, check out an original piece of fiction by Lockhart, Pick’s Ghoul.