Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Book Review: Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough

Mayhem. Sarah Pinborough. (Pub. 2013) 352 pages.
I've followed Sarah Pinborough on Twitter for a while and her witty, sarcastic tweets are what made me interested in her writing. 

Happily, I discovered a copy of Mayhem in my local library and I immediately knew it was my sort of book from the beautifully illustrated cover.

The story begins in late nineteenth century London, at a time when the city is gripped in the fear and hysteria surrounding Jack the Ripper. However when the headless, dismembered corpses of unidentified women start turning up in the Thames, Dr Thomas Bond (physician and police surgeon) immediately knows he is dealing with a very different, far darker murderer than Jack. 

These murders actually occurred, and were dubbed the Thames Torso murders, but were over-shadowed by Jack the Ripper's work. Dr Bond was also the real surgeon who performed the autopsies and is often referred to as the first criminal profiler. 

Set in three parts, the story is written in both third and first person and is also sprinkled with newspaper articles from the time. The dominant point of view, is that of Doctor Bond, and his personal struggle to deal with the gruesome murders and get to the truth. However you also get the point of view of the detectives, a couple of the victims and of course, the killer. The killer is revealed probably just over half way through the book, but the story continues to be intriguing despite this, due to the supernatural element of the story. 

I particularly like the atmosphere created by Pinborough's writing. The polluted, dank and dark environment is brought to life by the language and dialogue of the characters.  I found the seedy opium dens of the time that Dr. Bond frequents really interesting. Especially as I have since discovered that the real Dr. Bond used narcotics to help with insomnia, which is thought to have contributed to his suicide. 
The author has also captured the sense of fear and the heightened state of alert that a Victorian, East London must have felt. 
Characters such as Dr. Bond are well-rounded characters and realistically flawed, and because of this, as a reader, you can empathise with them.

When I first began reading, I was a bit concerned that the story would be all about the shock of the horrific crime scenes without a decent storyline, but I was soon proved wrong. I think the first part is perhaps on the long side, as it takes a while to piece all the different components and view points together, but once they start coming together, the pace of the narrative picks up. 

For me, Mayhem is great. I believe it takes an extremely talented writer to take on actual historical crimes and weave them with their own fictional plot. All the murders in the book did actually take place, and I believe they remain unsolved. Pinborough has managed to maintain respect for the victims yet at the same time create a compelling novel. 

I can't wait to read more of her work, in fact, I've just ordered a hardback copy of  her 2014 book 'Murder', which again features Dr. Bond. I'll keep you posted on it!