Whitechapel Horrors, The (Book)
Reviewed by Mr. Dark
Written by Edward B. Hanna
Published by Titan Books
Titan Books' Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series has brought us some very enjoyable reprints of hard-to-find Holmes tales, many of whom dip into the horror genre, which brings them into our crosshairs. So far, I've enjoyed all I've read.
Key words there: so far.
The Whitechapel Horrors represents the first misstep that I've read from this series. While Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes demonstrated how to work Holmes into another established mythos, this book demonstrates the opposite.
The setup is very simple: What if the consulting detective had been asked to assist in the investigation of the Jack the Ripper slayings? This has been handled before, including the excellent films Murder By Decree and A Study In Terror. These high marks are never reached by Hannah in this tome, I'm afraid.
Hannah is very clearly introduced as a Holmes scholar with an impeccable pedigree of knowledge about Conan Doyle's creation. The problem here is that he doesn't seem to know as much about the Ripper case, or at least couldn't decide where he stood while remaining slavishly faithful to every bit of minutiae about the Holmes universe.
This is a very long book, and it seems as if its length has been extended considerably by major delays in the narrative. These delays are caused by Hannah's incredibly detailed handling of the timelines from previous Holmes novels and of the Ripper killings. The events of the Hound of the Baskervilles occurred during the time of the actual Ripper slayings, and Hannah felt compelled to work the time frame from that novel into this, for maximum accuracy.
Accuracy is well and good, but unless you're an extreme Holmes 'nerd' you're really not going to care if he just gets on with it and tells this tale. How many readers would have put down this book midway, saying 'well, it's all worthless, Holmes wasn't in London that week!' Hannah's own Holmes obsession does a poor service to readers of this novel.
There are also many problems with the Ripper details. While he seems to have done extremely detailed research (complete with bibliography) about the cases and their environs, he makes some very curious decisions when it comes to changing known facts for the sake of his own story. The example that jumps out at me best is his portrayal of Sir Charles Warren, who was the head of the Metropolitan Police at the time. Hannah paints him as a buffoon, an old kook who tosses Holmes out of his station with a rude tirade that borders on the delusional. In reality, Warren was a sober military man in his 40's, who was given command of the police when they were in a terrible state, and only resigned after being scapegoated for the failure to stop the murders.
This may seem like the flip side of what I'm accusing Hannah, engaging in Ripperologist nerdiness, but it's an example of what Hannah might have been thinking. Why change this character? For a convenient reason to throw Holmes off the case long enough for him to get out of London to investigate the hound in the moors. In short: he sacrificed a key character in the very real Ripper case for the ability to meet a minor detail in Holmes lore. Why he was willing to change an element of reality to accommodate an element of fiction is beyond me, but I can't fathom how he'd lack the imagination to create some other method to achieve the same result while preserving the Ripper facts.
In the end, Hannah's ultimate sin is simply concocting a poor mystery. When all is said and done, the solution is a complete shambles. Clues he has inserted into the Ripper case that didn't exist in reality lead nowhere...so why include them? Events he inserts that seem to clearly point at the Ripper's identity turn out to point in a completely different direction, in an absurd 'twist' at the end of the novel. No explanation is given as to how these events point to this new direction and not the Ripper. We're just left to trust Holmes.
And Holmes is the primary victim of Hannah, in an ironic turn. Holmes spends a great deal of the novel absolutely clueless, literally and figuratively. We just do not see classic Holmes in this book. His powers of observation are absent almost entirely. In one case, a drunken street informer and a doddering old minister discover an obvious clue before Holmes finally realizes what he's missed! This is blasphemy in Holmes literature.
What we're left with is an extremely lengthy book that feels longer, a plot without a satisfying resolution, and two existing mythos that are both served poorly. It's a shame, as someone of Hannah's experience and credentials should have had the tools to craft the ultimate Holmes/Ripper chase. Instead, we get an incredibly detailed look at the London of Sherlock Holmes without anything interesting going on inside it. It's like a film where all you do is look at the sets, with no actors or dialog. Here's hoping this is just an errant blip in the otherwise entertaining Further Adventures series.
1 out of 5
Discuss The Whitechapel Horrors in the comments section below!