Richard Wright

author of strange, dark fictions


Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough

Sometimes, when you’ve written a book that people enjoyed reading, you accidentally become a perceived expert in that ‘type’ of book whether you are one or not. I’m fortunate that people who have read The Flesh Market generally enjoy it a great deal. Sometimes when they finish, they ask what other books they can read which are a bit like it.

And I’ve been stumped.

I’ve said before that it was only after reading The Terror and Drood, both by Dan Simmons, that I got a handle on how I wanted to approach the story of Burke & Hare. However, it’s not remotely true to say that The Flesh Market is ‘like’ those books. It isn’t. They share a mechanism in that they all retell a true historical story by adding supernatural (or supernatural seeming) elements. Beyond that though, they’re very different sorts of story.

And I had nothing else. I haven’t read a lot of this sort of thing, and while planning, writing, and publishing The Flesh Market I deliberately avoided it. I knew it must be out there, but didn’t really want to start rooting through other people’s ideas while I was trying to give voice to my own.

I’m not seeking it out right now, particularly, but I stumbled over Sarah Pinborough’s Mayhem last week, and breathed a sigh of relief. It’s brilliant, and I now have a book that I can point to with certainty and say “If you liked The Flesh Market, you should definitely check this out”. Which is what I’m doing now. Here’s the review I’ve just left on Amazon and Goodreads.

“While Jack the Ripper stole the glory, he was not the only serial killer at work at work in London in the 1880s. Perhaps more gruesome than the Ripper’s modus operandi were the Thames Torso Murders, in which a series of female victims were dismembered, decapitated, and dumped in the river to be found in pieces by members of the public and constabulary. Sarah Pinborough revisits the crimes, and grafts a supernatural element to the terror that adds further unease to the investigation. The principal character is Thomas Bond, the real life police surgeon involved in both the Ripper case and the Thames Torso findings. He’s a fallible, exhausted investigator, who at first rejects the supernatural and is then slowly drawn into its possibilities.

Pinborough’s Victorian London is superbly drawn, with an attention to the detail of society that will please most historical readers. The gulf between social classes and the background tensions of the time are an integral and carefully balanced lever within the story, giving it a grit and realism that sells not only the characters but also their world. With the Ripper investigation running concurrently with the Torso murders, the story is easy to dive into and initially familiar, but develops in a host of directions I haven’t seen before. Rooting so distinctly in real historical events, the story also carries the slow intrusion of supernatural causes with ease.

Pinborough does not shy from the brutality of the history she explores. However, for a novel so awash with blood there is little violence on the page itself. Like Bond, the reader is forever mired in its messy aftermath, marking this as more historical mystery than actual horror. That said, the grim progression of the plot, as Bond begins to put evidence together to draw conclusions he would rather not, never lacks for suspense.

Mayhem is a deeply involving thriller, and jumps to the top of my 2014 list of great finds.”

So, yeah. Mayhem is a distinctive and exciting find, and if you like the sort of thing that The Flesh Market is then I think it’s going to be right up your street. I’ve known of Sarah Pinborough for ages (she’s very entertaining on Twitter), but have somehow failed to actually read any of her books. I think I will go and rectify that now.

You should too. Buy The Flesh Market first, obviously, or I will have to feed my daughter with empty dreams. After that though, definitely check out Mayhem. It’s awesome.

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  1. Rob KaiserMay 20, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    I am about midway through Mayhem’s sequel, Murder, and loving it. Other good Burke and Hare books I’ve read are The Corpse King by Tim Curran and Only the Thunder Knows by Gord Rollo.

  2. Richard WrightMay 20, 2014 at 12:27 pmAuthor

    Cheers Rob! I may have a look at Gord’s entry.

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