Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews

Jack the Ripper is one of the most infamous serial killers of all time. Having committed so many brutal murders and yet remained unknown gives authors plenty of scope to build a crime story around the bones of this legendary case.

In Letters from a Murderer, we are transported to New York, 1891, where a prostitute has been found murdered in a startlingly similar manner to the Ripper victims of London. The premise of the story elaborates on the theory that the Ripper may have crossed the Atlantic to evade capture and continue killing. Or could these new murders be the work of a copycat killer? 

It is down to aristocratic pathologist Finley Jameson to make sense of the murders and decipher the letters sent to him via the press from the killer himself, goading Finley as he continues to avoid arrest. Jameson teams up with Joseph Argenti, a seasoned New York cop who provides a fresh perspective. 

We get to see the story from many points of view. I especially liked the killer’s view point and his taunting letters which make the story more sinister and exciting. There is also a gang related crime story running alongside the Ripper murders that introduce more characters, and which interlink with the investigation. 

As a crime investigating duo, Jameson and Argenti didn't gel well for me. I like that they are very different men in their own right, but I didn't feel an affinity between them that I've found with other police pairings. My favourite character was Jameson’s assistant Lawrence, a soft spoken man with an eidetic memory, who Jameson saved from the madhouse. 

The story is well told; gritty and gruesome in all the right places, and with plenty of action. Letters from a Murderer is an interesting take on the Jack the Ripper theme and a solid historical crime fiction read.

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