Monday, March 10, 2014

"The man wasn't the Devil at all. The Devil was behind him."

2.5 out of 5 stars

This is the first work by Sarah Pinborough I've read and while I can't say I hated the book, when I finished it I was left feeling as though something was missing from the story. It felt, I don't know, lightweight, and I'm not sure why. After all, it was well-researched (from what I could tell) and atmospheric, with a compelling story. Also a unique one. After all, how many out there, aside from hardcore Ripperologists, have heard of the Torso Killer who went on his murderous spree at the same time as Jack? Not me. Granted, I'm not unfamiliar with Jack the Ripper and have spent my fair share of time researching the case and formulating my own theories, but I'd still consider myself far from being a true Ripperologist, so hearing about a second, equally depraved serial killer terrorizing London alongside Jack piqued my curiosity to no end.

I think part, or actually most of the problem, was that the book felt as though it didn't really know what it was trying to be or how it wanted to tell the story. Divided into three parts, part one started out as a pretty straightforward historical thriller/mystery, detailing the initial search for this Torso Killer. Though the multiple P.O.V.s were distracting, the overall tone was one I liked, sort of a Victorian England CSI. The only issue I had with this section is that the story seemed a bit too reminiscent of the movie From Hell, as Pinborough wrote her main character as also being an opium addict. Then part two begins and suddenly a supernatural element, which had been introduced earlier in the form of a refugee from Eastern Europe who has visions of evil things to come, takes over and alters the tone of the story. Not only that, but that supernatural thread never feels quite right, like a skin of oil resting on top of a glass of water: it's there, but it doesn't mix in. In part three, the author is trying to tie everything together and wind the story up, and as a result things seems to drag on just a bit too long until all of a sudden, we're at the finale of the book and... it's just over with. It came off as being anticlimactic: there was a fight with the villain that was over and done with quite quickly, and the whole situation just tied itself up all neat and pretty. I didn't feel satisfied with how things worked out, like the payoff just wasn't great enough for all the trauma the characters went through up to that point. There was also supposed to be a twist, but once you put the pieces together, you could see that "twist" coming from a mile away. It didn't help that the story's multiple P.O.V.s, which can sometimes be a tricky proposition, made it quite difficult to settle into the story: as soon as I was drawn into following the story from one character's perspective, the chapter ended and another voice took over.

Which is a real shame because, at its heart, Mayhem is a well-written book. Let down by the occasional spelling mistake, some odd grammar choices, and other style quirks, sadly, leading me to feel not entirely pleased with the novel. And while the subject matter itself was compelling enough to keep me reading, I wish Pinborough had stuck to using a strictly psychological thriller angle to explore the mystery of the Torso Killer.

Read from January 19-26, 2014
Reviewed for the Amazon Vine Program March 10, 2014

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