Reese (The Book of Shadows, 2002, etc.) sends Jack the Ripper after Bram Stoker in yet another fog-laden tale of mutilation.
Giving the man who invented Dracula a horror story of his own, the author re-creates Stoker’s real-life world and friends: theater impresario Henry Irving, novelist Thomas Henry Hall Caine, Lady Jane Wilde (Oscar’s mom) and assorted others. Their fictional adventures are chronicled in Stoker’s journals, correspondence and press clippings, contained in a dossier that turns up when an anonymous correspondent forwards them to a present-day editor at William Morrow. Reese relegates whatever insights these documents offer into the writer’s creativity to an annoying plethora of footnotes. He’s after bloodier stuff, and he delivers it when Stoker, at Lady Wilde’s behest, visits a session of the Order of the Golden Dawn. There he espies Dr. Francis Tumblety, an American quack physician, at the center of a phantasmagoric ritual replete with scorpions, bleeding wounds and writhing serpents. From then on, Tumblety, possessed by an evil spirit, stalks Stoker, intoning his name in the London streets and leaving a dead cat and mouse and bags of blood at the author’s home. Stoker learns from Caine that Tumblety’s wardrobe holds jars containing preserved “female organs of generation,” which the demented doctor obtained from physicians and body snatchers. The American also holds a stash of letters detailing an intimate affair he shared with Caine, thus preventing Stoker’s friend from turning to police for fear of arrest for indecent behavior. When someone begins carving up London prostitutes, the killer’s handiwork is described explicitly and gratuitously in news accounts and police reports. Convinced that Tumblety is the serial murderer, Stoker dubs him Jack the Ripper as he, Caine and Lady Wilde plot none too cleverly to bring down the bloodthirsty villain.
Gore and gothic trappings mask a thin, wobbly plot.