Murder by Sarah Pinborough

May 1, 2014

Please note Murder is a direct sequel to Mayhem. It is entirely possible that this review may contain spoilers if you have not read the first book in this duology.

Dr Thomas Bond, Police Surgeon, is still recovering from the events of the previous year when Jack the Ripper haunted the streets of London – and a more malign enemy hid in his shadow. Bond and the others who worked on the gruesome case are still stalked by its legacies, both psychological and tangible.

But now the bodies of children are being pulled from the Thames… and Bond is about to become inextricably linked with an uncanny, undying enemy.

When we last met Dr Thomas Bond he, and his small group of allies, had defeated an evil that was stalking the streets of London. That encounter had left everyone it touched fundamentally changed. Years have passed and Bond is still suffering from the after effects. When evil resurfaces in the city, he is once again compelled to intercede but is the doctor strong enough to survive a second battle?

In some chapters the point of view shifts from the good doctor to various other characters. Julianna Harrington and Henry Moore both make a return appearance, as does Aaron Kosminki, but the primary focus does however remain on Bond. As his various demons, whether real or imagined, begin to consume him, we get to view his descent into madness from the outside as well as within. This exploration of Dr Bond’s fragile mental state is riveting reading. It all seems so extremely personal and intimate, his entire psyche is laid bare, and the experience of reading about it is almost akin to literary voyeurism. I felt I was intruding on something so tangible and real. I often have favourite characters in novels, bit it’s rare for me to get so caught up in the plight of a single protagonist. I felt genuine pity for Bond as his situation deteriorates and just goes from bad to worse.

I didn’t think it was possible but, if anything, this deliberate character deconstruction makes Murder an even darker experience than Mayhem, which was in fairness plenty enough dark already. Bond is slowly picked apart and all of his behaviour analysed. The author has obviously taken great pains to understand what motivates Bond’s actions and that level of details enhances an already compelling tale.

A word of warning to those of a nervous disposition, some (probably all if I’m honest) of the crimes depicted in Murder full squarely into the categories of either grim or utterly gruesome. If you’re squeamish then you may wish to avert your eyes in these key scenes. There are definitely moments in this novel that walk that fine line between the darkest of crimes and the most graphic elements that horror has to offer.

Once again, the supernatural elements in the novel are left deliberately ambiguous. Different readers are undoubtedly going to take different interpretations from the events that unfold. I love this approach. Is Bond driven by some unseen supernatural force, or is his fondness for opium and laudanum to blame? Murder could easily be viewed either way and it’s impressive that both interpretations can be drawn from the writing. There are very few authors around who can deliver such confident writing with this level of skill.

For me the best crime novels set in the Victorian era all seem to have the same thing in common. They all capture the basic disparity of the period. The crippling poverty and harsh existence as experienced by the poorest of the poor, compared with the extravagances of the rich. Murder manages not only to be an engrossing crime novel but also highlights the huge social inequalities that were rife back then.

The other key element is that ability to make the sights and sounds of the city come alive on the page. When an author knows their subject well, as in this case, they can create marvellously evocative works of fiction. Even with all its flaws, there is still something so damned enticing about Ms. Pinborough’s vision of London.

I’ll conclude with an admission. It’s extremely rare that I read an entire book in one sitting but I just couldn’t put Murder down. I think that’s probably the highest compliment I can ever give a book. It held my attention entirely. It’s certainly the perfect companion to its predecessor, Mayhem. I can heartily recommend reading both novels if a journey into the dark underbelly of Victorian London appeals. Sarah Pinborough has once again proven why she has earned a place on my extremely short list of favourite authors.

Murder is published by Jo Fletcher Books and is available from the 1st May 2014.

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