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Jack the Ripper was not the only serial killer roaming the streets of London in 1888. Between 1887 and 1889, at least three women were killed and dismembered, and parts of their bodies disposed of in the Thames, although in one case, the torso and other parts were discovered on the grounds of the construction site for the new Scotland Yard building. The identity of the Thames Torso killer has never been determined, and there is some question as to whether the three murders he is agreed to have committed are the full extent of his crimes, as similar cases, also unsolved, had occurred in 1873-4 and 1884.

In Mayhem, Sarah Pinbourough infuses the facts of the Thames Torso Murders with a markedly supernatural story of possession by an ancient spirit of evil. The novel is centred on police surgeon Thomas Bond, who was an early practitioner of the science of forensic profiling, having produced a profile of the Ripper. Bond did play a historical role in the investigation of both the Ripper and the Thames Torso killer, performing autopsies on both Mary Jane Kelly and the second of the Torso killer's victims, Elizabeth Jackson. The novel gives him a much greater role, however, in the detection and final resolution of the murders.

I thoroughly enjoyed Pinborough's genre-bending historical crime horror novel on all counts.

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Horror is not my favourite genre, but every once in a while, I get a craving for a tale of the supernatural - largely, I think, because when done the way I like it, a horror story is above all a story about morality, about right and wrong, good and evil, justice and revenge, sacrifice and redemption. All that good archetypal gut-level stuff that allows us to imagine, for a little while, that there is meaning and balance in the world. And happily, I discovered as I read it that Sarah Pinborough's The Taken is my kind of horror story.

It's a classic haunted house story, on a wider scale - an entire village is being visited by the ghosts of children, one of whom - Melanie Parr - died in the village thirty years ago under circumstances which are, at first, a mystery. There is a massive storm brewing, and the village is cut off, isolated, roads flooded, telephones down, while Melanie seeks her vengeance.

But there is a power even greater than Melanie's in the village, and when that power comes into play, it will set things right - and break your heart.

The story moves along nicely, and while the characters are a touch stereotypical, the plot is strong and the atmosphere of creeping claustrophobia, confusion and buried guilt are quite well developed. I'm looking forward to reading more of Pinborough's work.


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