The following review appeared in edition 160 of Ripperologist magazine.
THE GASLIGHT STALKER
Sapere Books, 2018
Esther Jacobs is a Jewish seamstress living and working at Satchell’s lodging house in Spitalfields. When her neighbour and friend Martha Tabram is found murdered in George Yard Buildings, Esther puts her needlework to one side and finds herself drawn into the police investigation. Bloodthirsty Grenadier guard-smen, revengeful prostitutes, lunatics with surgical knives… The police are dithering, so can Esther step in and provide a breakthrough in the Ripper enquiry? She has a tidy, logical mind, and plenty of pluck and spirit that sometimes causes her to behave impetuously, but her chief asset as an amateur sleuth is her invisibility and the fact that she can easily go where men can’t. She is perfect for undercover and surveillance work.
A relationship quickly develops between Esther and Metropolitan police constable Jack Enright, and throughout the novel this wholesome, chaste romance is contrasted to good effect with the murky, sinful world of prostitution, backstreet abortion, and serial murder. The fresh air of a riverside vicarage in old Barking serves to intensify the malignity of the novel’s bleak East End setting.
The Gaslight Stalker is an appealing mystery that largely sticks to historical facts while at the same time departing from them for the sake of a good story. Occasionally the narrative screeches to a halt under the weight of exposition, and this, coupled with a tendency toward cliché (‘They passed from one pool of gaslight to another in the fog-wreathed streets of Whitechapel’), works against the author’s efforts to sustain a convincing mood of fear and unease. However, there is much to enjoy in this disquieting tale about everyday, fallible folk caught up in terrible events. The Ripper murders are a constant brooding presence in the novel, nominally at the centre of the story but often pushed to the side to allow the ordinary business of life to assert itself and come to the fore. Ultimately, it is the sensitive portrait of the affair between Esther and Constable Enright that captivates the most.
This enjoyable novel is the first in a new series featuring Esther and Jack. I’m already looking forward to their next adventure.
Review by David Green.