Email this review


Check and countercheck between a fictitious British policeman of the 1890's and a real-life murderer whose fame rivaled that of Jack the Ripper, by a master of Victorian mayhem (Captain Wunder; Jekyll, Alias Hyde, etc.). A charming, silk-hatted psychopath known only as Fred, lately released from prison, roams the streets of Lambeth murdering prostitutes. His method is horrific--slow poisoning by strychnine--his motive is the pleasure of the kill, and his ego is colossal. Thomas brings Fred to chilling life through his prison diary and through the brazen series of letters he writes to the authorities in several hands--threatening to blackmail Lord Russell and the Honourable Frederick Smith, taunting the police with their helplessness, and offering to solve the mystery for a reward of 30,000 pounds. For most of the story, though, Fred, whose career is based on that of famous British psychopath Neill Cream, is a frustrating will-o'-the-wisp; Thomas' real achievement is in making his fictional nemesis, Inspector Alfred Swain--returning from Jekyll, Alias Hyde--as interesting as he is, though considerably more stolid here. Swain's dealings with prostitutes, policemen, his landlady Mrs. Ryland's prepossessing daughter Rachel, and Havelock Ellis show just the right combination of period atmosphere and relentless narrative drive: and if Swain's capture of Fred isn't as compelling as his pursuit, your close-bitten nails will be glad of a respite. An effortless evocation of Victorian London, and a thrilling story to boot.

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1989
Publisher: St. Martin's