Truth in labeling alert: Penzler’s latest plus-sized anthology differs sharply from volumes like Maxim Jakubowski’s The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper because it doesn’t focus mainly on the world’s most famous real-life serial killer but rather on his fictional epigones.
Penzler does begin with 136 pages of documentation from the 1888 murder spree, reviews of the slim but harrowing evidence, and historical speculations about the Ripper’s identity. But his heart is really in showcasing the fictional afterlives of Saucy Jack, and here he leaves no stone unturned. Among the 52 selections are classic tales by Cleveland Moffett, Thomas Burke, Isak Dinesen, Anthony Boucher, and Edward D. Hoch and brand-new stories by Anne Perry (a Victorian woman wonders if her husband might be Jack), Jeffery Deaver (a pastiche that blurs the line between fiction and history), Loren D. Estleman (a Ripper type terrorizes postwar Detroit), Daniel Stashower (an enterprising group’s staging of “the Ripper experience” runs into predictable complications), Stephen Hunter (Jack arrives in hell), and, most haunting of all, Lyndsay Faye (a posthumous memoir by one of the Ripper’s victims). As in his earlier anthologies for Vintage (The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries, 2014, etc.), Penzler’s keynote virtue is exhaustiveness. Readers will find three novel-length tales by Boris Akunin (The Decorator, pitting Erast Petrovich Fandorin against a Moscow Ripper), Ellery Queen (A Study in Terror, a surprisingly successful tale pairing the Ripper with Sherlock Holmes), and Marie Belloc Lowndes (the memorably creepy The Lodger). Completists will note with pleasure that Penzler includes not only The Lodger, but the Lowndes short story on which it is based and not only Robert Bloch’s tour de force “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” but “A Toy for Juliette,” the futuristic sequel Bloch provided at Harlan Ellison’s request, and “The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World,” Ellison’s sequel to Bloch’s sequel.
The Ripper has been such a persistent inspiration in the mystery and horror genres that no anthology can truly be exhaustive. But if you finish this monumental collection and find yourself with an appetite for more, consider seeking professional help.