I'm an easy mark for Victorian era Horror. Something about that time period just makes it the perfect place to set a scary story. Throw in the fact that 99% of Victorian Horror contains at least some trace of or reference to Jack The Ripper, another of my favorite Horror subjects, and I'm in Heaven. So Sarah Pinborough's latest, MAYHEM, seemed like a great fit.
A little-known fact of Victoriana is that there was another, and in my opinion far worse, set of serial killings going on at the same time as The Ripper Murders: The "Thames Torso Killings", a series of brutal, unsolved homicides that found headless, limbless torsos washing up in the river or wrapped in paper and hidden in various spots, including one that was found in the foundation of the under-construction headquarters of Scotland Yard. Pinborough uses a smattering of actual historical figures, including Police Surgeon Dr. Thomas Bond and frequent Ripper suspect Aaron Kosminski, to flesh out her horrific whodunit.
This is my first exposure to Pinborough's work, so I can't really say if the slow-burn buildup that she utilizes in MAYHEM is indicative of her usual style, or just something she utilized here, but it works wonderfully. She takes her time setting the table and letting us get to know the characters and their setting before bringing out the main course. The novel moves at a deliberate pace that might frustrate readers who want instant gratification, but the slow buildup makes the eventual reveal of just who and what our ragtag team of hunters is up against that much more powerful. Pinborough's Torso Killer has a truly unsettling modus operandi, and her description of the killer and his passenger caused this jaded Horror fan to keep the lights on when roaming the house at night.
If I had any complaint about this book, and it's a small one, it's in the timeline. I realize that Pinborough was constrained by having to keep the book lined up with the actual dates and times of the real Torso Murders, but it really strained credibility to have the protagonists solve the case, yet wait months and months before actually doing anything about it. Also, and this might be corrected before the book actually sees print, the advance reader's copy that I received has a huge spoiler in the back cover copy. Luckily, I didn't read the back cover until I had already finished the book, but I would have been pretty upset if I had read such a pivotal piece of information prior to discovering it for myself, where you're supposed to, in the actual story.
Aside from those small complaints, and an end that, while not rushed, left me wising that it had gone on just a bit longer, I found MAYHEM to be quite an entertaining read. Pinborough's Preface seems to hint that there's a sequel forthcoming, and if that's the case, I'm really looking forward to it.