Yet another take on Jack the Ripper, this novel is well-written, but I just don’t buy it. Furthermore, the action begins and ends on the sinking Titanic, for no other reason that I can see other than a spot of bandwagon leaping. Here I take issue with my old friend Mike Ripley, who praises the novel warmly in his Getting Away With Murder column number 66.
The man who is about to be drowned is recalling his adventures in the East End of London in the late 1880’s, when he lost his memory as a result of a mugging in an alley, and was taken to St. Bart’s hospital. As he lay in his coma in the alley, a young Irish prostitute named Mary Kelly tried to help him, at the same time robbing him of a bulky purse containing five thousand pounds.
Being a genuinely kind girl who has fallen on very hard times, Mary’s conscience will not allow her simply to forget him, and she tracks him down to the hospital, where his memory loss presents her with a wonderful opportunity for a really good con. She claims to be his grief-stricken sweetheart, and visits him every day, waiting for him to be pronounced well enough to be discharged – praying that he will not recover his memory just yet.
At the same time, a mysterious group of Masons with transatlantic connections are desperately trying to trace two other prostitutes, the associates of one Bill Tolly, whom they had employed to murder a young Frenchwoman and her baby. Bill had asked them to murder the baby, while he killed the mother. In the baby’s cot they find a gold locket containing a photograph of the mother and child with a young gentleman whose face looks vaguely familiar. At first they don’t tell Bill about the locket, but not being quite sure how to dispose of it, eventually do so. They at least have the sense not to hand it over. Other prostitutes get involved for various reasons, and thus begins the series of horrible murders by “Jack the Ripper”.
Meanwhile the man with the loss of memory is gradually recovering it. Mary has already established that he is American and, as she thinks, a gentleman. In fact he is a hit man known as The Candle Man, currently in the employ of the mysterious Masons.
I won’t reveal any more, because many, I am sure, along with Mike Ripley, will enjoy it. And yes, Mike, I also wondered about the “laundrette”.