The following review appeared in edition 160 of Ripperologist magazine.
THE PRINCE AND THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS
Hodder & Stoughton, 2018 ISBN 978-0340953686 Hardback, 294pp. £18.99
Major George ‘Zulu’ Hart is offered a job with the Special Irish Branch. They want him to go under cover as a squadron commander in the 10th Hussars and act as bodyguard to Prince Albert Victor (Eddy), heir apparent to the throne. If he can keep the young prince out of trouble for a year, Hart will earn enough money to pay off his crippling gambling debts. Keeping Eddy safe means two things: protecting him from Irish republican terrorists, and working to deflect political or criminal blackmail arising from Eddy’s homosexual activities. Sure enough, Hart travels incognito to Kilburn and infiltrates the Fenians, acting as agent provocateur in a plot to assassinate the prince. At the same time, he accompanies Eddy, J.K. Stephen, and Montague Druitt to a male brothel in Cleveland Street, where he learns that the prince and his friends sometimes venture out at night into the slums of Whitechapel for ‘a bit of fun’. Reading the newspapers, he is shocked to learn that these forays into the East End coincide with the murders of prostitutes. Summoned to Scotland Yard by Sir Charles Warren, Hart is tasked with a third mission ‒ to exonerate the prince from any connection to the Jack the Ripper murders. Yes, it’s Zulu Hart vs. Jack the Ripper! After his victories over Dervish, Boer, and Afghan warlord, can the dashing but very dislikeable cavalry officer defeat the Whitechapel Fiend?
This is Saul David’s third Zulu Hart novel, and it marks a significant change of direction for his mixed-race, red-blooded action hero. Gone are the Sinai Peninsula and the bloody battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift; in their place are the decaying tenements of Whitechapel and a plate of bacon and eggs with Pearly Poll in a greasy spoon in Spitalfields.
The author is a highly regarded academic military historian, and as you might expect, his story convinces when it deals with army life and notions of empire and war as the crucible for Victorian male character. Yet he seems curiously unwilling to explore what is in fact the main theme of his book, that of homosexual desire and intimacy among men and between men and teenage boys. Instead of examining the many issues raised by this subject – the ambiguous position of homosexuality within Victorian culture, the nature of exploitation and the balance of sexual power between older and younger males and between royalty and commoners – we are treated to a rather far-fetched romp that relies too much on happenstance. The blurb promises a ‘new twist on the Ripper story’, but in fact the novel riffs on one of the oldest suspect theories around.
Zulu Hart is a fascinating Boy’s Own character who has been brought in to solve problems the Government and the Metropolitan police can’t fix on their own. He’s a strapping fellow but also rather humourless and self-righteous; I found it difficult to take him seriously, especially when he goes around stepping in dog shit and getting locked in a dustbin in Miller’s Court. I’m reminded of those clockwork toy soldiers I used to play with as a boy – you wind them up and watch them walk into walls and march off the table onto the floor. Accidentally kneeing a child in the face as he races across the road, he flips the mother a coin with the throwaway remark, “Get her checked by a doctor”. What a guy! At least Druitt would have kissed the child better.
But the novel impresses on many levels. Audaciously, the author has turned his hand to crime fiction, and the result is an exhilarating caper full of high drama, dare-devil schemes, cut-throat action, and hair-breadth escapes. Plotted with manic zest and executed at a hectic pace, this is a vastly enjoyable swashbuckling adventure that entertains to the very last page.
Review by David Green.