"Tales of Jack the Ripper" Book Review
Written by Michel Sabourin
Published by Word Horde
Edited by Ross E. Lockhart
2013, 256 pages, Fiction
Released on August 31, 2013
Anthologies are generally hit or miss, and especially high on misses when the collected authors are limited to one subject matter. But when the subject is good old Jack, the stories seem to rise to the occasion. A full 80% of the stories and poems contained within this anthology are very good indeed. The most notable exceptions are Walter Greatshell's "Ripping" - which does nothing to change my opinion of his writing after reviewing Terminal Island - and "Termination Dust" by Laird Barron.
Barron's story, a tale out of time, incredulously links Jack the Ripper to Andy Kaufman's Big E. For real. It's a highly "artistic" vision that is disjointed and sounds more like the transcribed ramblings of your average meth junkie than a concisely told story. It failed to hold my attention or interest in any meaningful way and is, along with Greatshell's entrant, an unfortunate black eye in an otherwise gripping collection of wildly differing tales.
What I mostly enjoyed about this collection is that it is as varied in its takes on Smiling Jack as the real life events. There are more Ripper theories floating in the ether than can be combined in any one definitive history, and it seems as though each writer managed to latch onto a different answer to who Jack was and the reasons for the original crimes. He was a doctor, a sexually abused son of a hooker, or the bastard sons of Mr. Hyde. He did it for love; for honor; to cleanse the city. With all these and so many more imaginative views on one of the greatest unsolved mysteries ever it seems impossible to consider that the only real overlaps in the narratives are the victims' names. And even the reason they are chosen as sacrificial lambs is wildly different from one to the next.
Some of the highlights include "A Host of Shadows" by Alan M. Clark and Gary A. Braunbeck, which imagines an elderly Jack on his deathbed who has put his crimes behind him and built a legacy of medical breakthroughs for the preservation of life. His son is struggling to make his own way in the world under the crushing shadow of his esteemed father's legacy and spends his days drinking. Jack endeavors to confess his sins to his son to settle his debts and make his name lesser to allow his son to rise. It touches the heart and makes you feel bad for what is, ostensibly, a horrible, horrible person. That fact that one can empathize even one iota for such a despicable person serves as a testament to the skill in Clark and Braunbeck's words.
Another clear standout is "Something About Dr. Tumblety" by Patrick Tumblety. A simple question of nature versus nature as a young student doctor learns of his unsettling link to a progenitor who may be the infamous killer of Whitechapel. As the eponymous Dr. Tumblety struggles with predilections towards continuing his ancestor's legacy, we are given a unique glimpse into an eon's long debate over the nature of evil in society.
As a whole, this anthology has far more pluses than minuses and is wholly worth a read whether you have an extensive interest in Ripperology (there really is such a thing) or know little to nothing about the famed serial killer.