Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough
Narrator: Steven Crossley
Also by this author: Poison
Published by Jo Fletcher Books, Quercus Publishing PLC on 2014-01-14
Genres: Historical, Horror, Mystery & Detective
Length: 10 hours 21 minutes
“A compulsively readable story that starts as a conventional murder mystery and morphs, by degrees, into a horrifying supernatural thriller,” The Guardian said of Mayhem. A virtuoso fantasy writer, Sarah Pinborough has won numerous awards including the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story. In Mayhem Pinborough turns her attention to one of the most baffling and notorious crime sprees in Victorian times. Already frustrated in their attempts to capture serial murderer Jack the Ripper, the detectives of Scotland Yard are suddenly confronted with a new monster, dubbed the Torso Killer for his habit of leaving behind neatly wrapped parcels of his victims’ body parts, minus the heads. With the terrible increase in mutilated corpses to examine, the highly regarded police surgeon Dr. Thomas Bond has lost the ability to sleep. True, a growing dependency on opium affords him some solace in his loneliest and most desperate hours, but he also fears the grip of the drug. During Dr. Bond’s nightly tours of London’s underbelly in search of pharmaceutical respite from the horrors that plague him by day, he encounters a mysterious Jesuit priest scouring the opium dens himself, clearly in search of someone—or something. The doctor at first rejects the strange priest’s unnatural theories about the Torso Killer as an affront to scientific thought. But over time Dr. Bond’s opium-addled mind begins to crumble under the growing impression that there might be some awful truth to the Jesuit’s ideas. As the police struggle to capture two serial killers, the troubled forensics expert begins to suspect that he may actually know the Torso Killer personally. If he is right, Dr. Bond will need all the strength he can muster to save his small circle of loved ones from falling victim to the bloody depravities of this twisted creature.From the Hardcover edition.
This is going to be quite short, as I am finding this to be a very hard book to review. I enjoyed Pinborough’s fairy tale retellings and while this looked quite different, I was hoping I would still enjoy it as much as I did those. After reading Mayhem, I do think it is well written and it I believe it has a good audience out there, but unfortunately when it came down to it, I don’t think I am a part of that audience. There is some grim humor in this, which I quite appreciated, but it just wasn’t enough to hold me.
Firstly, I want to be completely fair and honest here. I listened to the audiobook and I don’t think that helped matters. The narrator was good, but I found the format to be confusing while listening. The timeline for this book jumps around, the dates given at the beginning of each chapter. I found myself having a hard time keeping track of whose perspective we were getting at times, and definitely where the current section fit in the overall chronology of events. There is a good chance I may have enjoyed this particular book better if I had read it instead of listened to it.
Mayhem is set in London and is told through multiple POV. Our main protagonist, Dr. Bond, is told in 1st person, while the POVs from an Inspector and an immigrant are in 3rd person. I am not usually bothered by 1st person, but have to admit, something about the narration in this just didn’t sit right with me. I’m not sure if it was from switching between the perspectives, or if it just something else entirely. I hate not being able to deduce a reason why something doesn’t work for me. But it just didn’t.
There are two serial killers loose in London, and the story focuses on the Thames Torso killer, instead of the more infamous Jack the Ripper. Pretty much, I felt the story went something like this: severed appendages here, internal organ there, visit to an opium den, see a creepy guy. Repeat. Not necessarily in that order. And creepy guy could be replaced with something else. I guess what I am trying to say is that somehow I managed to remain quite detached from not just the carnage, but the overall story as well. While there is a good bit of gore and ick in this book, I also felt for the most part, it came across as quite sterile, perhaps because we are getting the more clinical perspectives from a doctor and an investigator.
So, in the end, I found I had no real connection with the characters and really, just a mild interest in the story. To be completely honest, I have found I have this trend with detective style novels and while trying to write the review I decided to try and figure out why. In this, I can see how the story should be interesting; I can see that Pinborough is a good writer (and I have enjoyed her other stories). But I think for me, having a story filtered through an investigator or a detective just adds a layer of removal from the story. I prefer stories where the characters are directly involved in some personal way from the beginning. So, this is not the author’s fault, this is just my reading preference getting in the way of me enjoying the book more.
In the end, I think if you enjoy crime novels and maybe also find the time period of interest, then it may be worth checking out. While I am certain other people may have an easier time (less complaints) with the audiobook format than I, I would still lean towards recommending reading the book rather than listening.