As you might guess from the title, Night of the Ripper is set in London in 1888. A shadowy figure is haunting the foggy alleyways of Whitechapel, savagely murdering prostitutes, terrifying the public, and leaving the police baffled. In the taunting letters that he writes to the authorities, he says that his name is Jack.
Jack the Ripper, to be exact.
With both high and low society demanding an end to the murders, can the respected and determined Inspector Abberline discover the true identity of Jack the Ripper and bring his reign of terror to an end? Helping him out will be an American doctor named Mark Robinson. Robinson is an expert in a developing science called psychology but will that be enough?
This 1984 novel from Robert Bloch is an unfortunate misfire. I say that as someone who has spent a countless amount of time reading about the murders and all of the identified suspects. (Back in March, when Jeff and I were in London, we went on one of those Jack the Ripper walking tours. It was wonderfully creepy!) A century after his crimes, Jack the Ripper continues to fascinate us because, not only was he the first widely identified serial killer, but it also appears that he got away with it. The police may have speculated that Jack was a disgraced lawyer who committed suicide after the murder of Mary Kelly but they never actually presented any evidence to back that up. Over the last 130 years, countless people have been accused of being Jack the Ripper, everyone from an anonymous Russian doctor to Lewis Carroll to the son of Queen Victoria. Solely based on the fact that she didn’t care much for his paintings, Patricia Cornwell wrote an entire book arguing that the artist Walter Sickert was the murderer. In all probability, Jack the Ripper was an anonymous nobody but he’s become such a huge figure in the popular imagination that it’s difficult for many to accept that he was probably just a sexually dysfunctional loser who hated women. Instead, elaborate conspiracy theories are pursued and films like Murder by Decree and From Hell are produced.
Bloch’s novel features plenty of prominent Victorians, though none of them are identified as suspects. Oscar Wilde, Joseph Merrick, Conan Doyle, and Robert Lees all show up and then quickly disappear from the story. When Bloch does eventually reveal the identity of Jack the Ripper, he turns out to be a minor character who was first introduced just a few chapters previously. It’s a bit of a letdown.
Actually, the whole book is a letdown. It comes across as if it was written in haste and Bloch’s attempt to give the story some gravitas by opening the final few chapters be describing ancient torture methods doesn’t really have the effect that I presume he was going for. It’s a disappointment because, after all, this is Robert Bloch that we’re talking about. Bloch not only wrote Psycho but he also wrote Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, one of the best short stories ever written about Jack.
Read the short story but avoid the novel. And if you ever get a chance to take a Jack the Ripper walking tour, do it!