Robert Bloch,
The Night of the Ripper
(Tor, 1984)

Working from the facts of the Whitechapel murders, Robert Bloch takes on Jack the Ripper in The Night of the Ripper and proposes a novel, logical, yet highly imaginative solution to the crimes. This is pure fiction, so one should not think that Bloch proposes a reasonable theory behind the Ripper murders and the identity of Saucy Jack. A number of entirely fictitious characters find themselves at the heart of this tale of murder. Mark Robinson, a young American doctor working at London Hospital, becomes the centerpiece of the action, working in conjunction with Inspector Abberline to find a solution to the horrific crimes sending London into fits of panic. Eva Sloane, a young nurse at the hospital, catches his eye early on and becomes the object of his unrequited affections and concern. With several of the doctors at the hospital initially considered suspects of a sort, particularly the eccentric Dr. Hume who seems to enjoy his surgical work just a little too much, Robinson adopts the role of Eva's protector, but this aspect of the story could have been much better incorporated into the larger picture of the murders.

While this novel failed to win me over completely, I must say that the ending, highly imaginative as it is, does provide a surprise or two and in its way manages to explain some of the discrepancies in the Ripper evidence, particularly that surrounding the most brutal slaughter of Mary Jane Kelly. One interesting touch that I did like was Bloch's means of introducing each chapter; working his way through history, he gives short descriptions of some of mankind's most brutal and horrifying activities.

It may well be that someone unfamiliar with the details of the Ripper murders would enjoy this novel more than I did. Being an armchair Ripperologist myself, the true facts of the actual murders in this novel fail to shock or horrify me; rather, I tend to dwell on the facts that Bloch left out and the general incompleteness of the facts he chose to play with. Bloch also chose to mention all manner of past theories over the course of the novel without attempting to explain the real significance (or impossibility) of some of them.

Also, I can't say I care for the insertion of such well-known characters as Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and John Merrick (the Elephant Man) into the narrative. These characters serve no purpose at all in this novel beyond making it more sensational; each of them makes a brief, wholly unimportant appearance and is then forgotten. As talented a writer as Bloch was, I can't imagine why he would resort to such needless sensationalism. The main problem I have with the novel is in fact the shallowness of all the characters. These characters never come alive; for the most part, we merely watch them come and go like puppets controlled by the author. The presentation of such historical individuals as Inspector Abberline, Sir William Gull and Sir Charles Warren is superficial and more misleading than insightful. Abberline remains quite inscrutable, although Bloch chooses to repeat ad nauseum the conditions of the poor man's troublesome stomach.

Only a certain breed of author would attempt a fictionalized explication of Jack the Ripper's crimes. Bloch was certainly one of that rare breed, but I believe his fictional engine was not clicking on all cylinders as he wrote The Night of the Ripper. His determination to bring in some of the actual facts of the murders, give lip service to all manner of Ripper theories and insert a number of famous men having little or no connection to the crimes seemed to distract him from the more important issue of character development; that deficiency makes this novel a superficial read that fails to impress this reader.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 17 May 2003

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