The Night of the Ripper by Robert Bloch


Published in 1984, and written by the author of Psycho, The Night of the Ripper is a sort of Jack the Ripper fan fic. Most of the Ripper theories are given voice and considered, before settling on a conclusion that involves both one of the usual suspects but also an all new twist. It's not as lurid as From Hell, and sadly never got a movie adaptation. I think that may be in part due to the pacing. It is more methodical in pace and had it come out in the 70's I think it might have been made into a reasonably successful film. By the 80's though, movie plots were already becoming a never ending escalation of set pieces and action scenes with little time allowed for setting up plot devices before they were sprung on us. 

The book tells the story from a few different points of view, but mostly sticks with Mark Robinson, an American doctor studying in London in hopes of becoming a psychiatrist. There is actually an interesting foreshadowing that is done regarding the pov of the first chapter, the importance of which did not hit me until the book ended. I won't tell what it is because I don't want to spoil the story. Anyway, Mark has the poor fortune to be in London when the Whitechapel murders start. He quickly goes from being a suspect to helping Chief Inspector Abberline hunt down the killer. He also develops a bit of an unhealthy obsession with Eva, a nurse at the hospital where he is doing his internship.

The story is fine, and Bloch knows his Ripper history. The main failing of the book is that he neglects his characters in his devotion to showing off his knowledge of the time and place. He spends pages just cataloguing local aphorisms. He shoehorns in celebrities of the time (John Merrick, Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde) even though they do nothing to actually move the story forward. Merrick even has a tie to the story, as the theory had been put forward that he might be the Ripper (based exclusively on his deformity) but he was instead brought in in a way that seems completely arbitrary. (For a book that makes better use of celebrities of the period read The List of 7.) He also doesn't spend sufficient time developing the characters he created for his story. The relationship between Mark and Eva, so crucial to the story, could definitely have used some more attention.

All that being said, the story is enjoyable despite its faults. I found myself being pulled in and the twist at the end was fun, and not an idea I had seen regarding the Ripper murders (though it's unlikely given what we know about serial killers). Most of the Ripper suspects are name checked or make an appearance. The royal scandals and shoddy police work that tied into the difficulties in catching the killer are well portrayed. The book does have one difficulty in giving a definitive ending to the story and making it correspond with the fact that the killer's identity was never found. The answer to this is a bit clumsy, but I suppose any ending that included the identity of the Ripper was going to be. All in all, an easy fun read that's not close to being the best slasher novel but is worth the few hours that it takes to get through. 

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