Book Review: Tales of Jack the Ripper

tales of jack the ripper cover

 

Tales of Jack the Ripper (Anthology)
Ed. Ross E. Lockheart
Word Horde
258 pages, Paperback
$12.81 (Paperback, Amazon) | $5.98 (Kindle)
Release Date: August 31, 2013
Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Plot Description:
From the editor who brought you The Book of Cthulhu comes Tales of Jack the Ripper, featuring new fiction by many of today’s darkest dreamers, including Laird Barron, Walter Greatshell, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Ed Kurtz, Joseph S. Pulver Sr., Stanley C. Sargent, E. Catherine Tobler, and many more.

Review:
“You can say a lot of things about humans. One is certain–we are exceedingly good at killing one another.” That pretty much summarizes the best way to open this anthology, a good introduction to Tales of Jack the Ripper, which was published in tandem with the 125th anniversary of the Whitechapel murders, committed by one of the most, if not the most, infamous serial killers of all time, Jack the Ripper.

We start off with a poem entitled “Whitechapel Autumn 1888” which is a grim but effective way to start things off, setting the mood for the rest of the anthology. Next up is “A Host of Shadows” (Braunbeck and Clark), which makes good use of a chilling quote from the philosopher Kierkegaard at the beginning. The story revolves around one of the theories about Jack the Ripper’s identity, postulating that he was actually a doctor, Dr. Faber, and does a great job establishing a sense of sympathy for him. The story seems to suggest that Jack wasn’t himself when he committed the murders and that he had a split personality, one of the popular “Jekyll and Hyde” variations on the Jack the Ripper tale.

British master of horror Ramsey Campbell’s story “Jack’s Little Friend” is told from the second person point of view and marks one of the more interesting offerings in the anthology. The protagonist finds a box with four dates, 1888 being one of them, but abandons it, thinking it’s not worth anything. But he figures out the significance of the dates and becomes obsessed with reading as much as possible about Jack the Ripper, and his obsession goes dangerously far.

“Abandon All Flesh” by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia is about a girl who’s dad works at a museum where she finds out more about Jack the Ripper. She has to work with a guy, David, on a school project. He wants to pursue a romance with her but she’s unsure. She thinks she’s being visited by the spirit of Jack the Ripper, and things only get worse for her from there (although she probably wouldn’t see it that way).

Another master of horror, Joe Lansdale, offers “God of the Razor,” one of the other stand-outs of the stories, about a guy who visits an old, abandoned house. A young guy tells him this morning his razor had eyes and made noise. The God of the Razor starts to make a lot more sense as the story goes on, with a unique tie-in to Jack the Ripper, and offers one of the most interesting plot twists that will make a lot of sense when you get to it. The ending is also quite memorable.

Ennis Drake’s story “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker” seems to be from the point of view of someone who serves a modern murdered and would-be Jack the Ripper heir. He’s imagining East London 125 years ago. He wants to re-enact Jack’s crimes. This story contains one of the most unique voices of the bunch. It, too, features a memorable ending and an amazing last line.

“Ripping” is for the film buffs as this story is about a producer trying to cast a girl as Jack’s last victim in a CGI movie. The tables turn when the reader least expects it.

“Something about Dr. Tumblety” by Patrick Tumblety goes into the theory that Jack the Ripper was Francis, a guy who knew anatomy like the back of his hand and who hated women. The grandson in the story becomes more like Francis every day in a bid to understand him, which can only lead down a path of ruin.

In “Ripperology”, there’s a passage from Derek Midwinter, a fictional expert on Jack the Ripper, that tries to explain why we mythologize the serial killer. Derek has more than a few screws loose and the lead-up to the ending makes for an interesting read.

Ed Kurtz impresses with another of the stand-outs of the anthology with his offering, “Hell Broke Loose,” which is set in Fort Worth and Austin in the last 1800s. Protagonist Blake is obsessed with a married woman who he soon finds is having dalliances on the side, which, shall we say, accents his murderous streak. One of the most interesting variations in this story is that it doesn’t go to England straight away, where most of the Ripper tales start off, and it works on many levels.

“Villains By Necessity” is about a Scotland Yard cop, Thomas, who uses opium, and the theory here is that Jack the Ripper wasn’t just one person and that a group of people were responsible for the whole thing, which was also an interesting variation.

“When the Means Justify the End” (Sargent) starts off in London in 1888. The main character, Arthur, used to be poor but now he’s not, although he still sympathizes greatly with the poor. Turns out Arthur is an assumed name and he’s hiding his past. This one is a more drawn-out story of Jack the Ripper’s origins and ends off shrouded in mystery.

Mercedes Murdock Yardley’s tale “A Pretty for Polly” is one of the best of the bunch, which casts the emphasis onto Polly, Jack the Ripper’s daughter. While he’s daring the cops to find him, challenging them and being defiant, the little girl has the greater role in this tale (in keeping with true Mercedes style). Jack is a misogynist and thinks every woman is a whore. So, not the greatest guy. But his true nature shows to Polly and what shows up is definitely frightening being the obvious things one would assume are there.

“Once November” is also a decent offering, told from the points of view of the murder victims of Jack the Ripper. Things are capped off in a nice way with another poem, “Silver Kisses,” which brings the anthology to a satisfying close.

Whether you’re a fan of Jack the Ripper fiction or aren’t sure whether it’s your cup of tea, check out this worthwhile, quality anthology for some really original, inventive stuff.

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2 Comments

  1. Jack the Ripper is such a fascinating subject and spawned so many stories, etc. I just read recently that Jack the Ripper was really not one man…but it was just a series of murders in London that the media spun. Great review. I’m definitely interested in reading Lansdale’s story.

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