Monday, April 24, 2017

Jack lives on

As an inspiration for novelists and screenwriters, Jack the Ripper has three things going for him. 1) His gruesome murders of London prostitutes in the 1880s continue to shock us, making the nickname given to him still recognizable, 2) he has never been identified, although there are numerous theories about who he might have been, including a physician, because of the way he cut up his victims, and a member of the royal family, and 3) nobody knows why the murders stopped as suddenly as they began.

As a consequence, Jack the Ripper has been a character in numerous novels and films, including two books I happened to read recently, Time After Time by Karl Alexander and The Devil's Workshop by Alex Grecian.

I read Time After Time after watching the short-lived ABC series based on the novel that ran in March. The novel was adapted for a movie, also with the same title, starring Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen a number of years ago.

Alexander's story turns Jack the Ripper into Dr. Leslie John Stephenson, a long-time acquaintance of writer H.G. Wells, who doesn't just write a novel about a time machine but actually builds one, Wells invites some friends over to show them his invention. When Scotland Yard comes knocking at the door looking for Jack the Ripper, Stephenson sees the time machine as a means of escaping for good, as well as providing him with a new killing field.

Stephenson takes the machine to San Francisco in 1979. Wells follows behind him, determined to bring him back to face justice. In the TV series it is a museum employee whom Wells meets, falls in love with and ultimately puts in grave danger. In the novel, she is an employee of the bank where Wells goes to get some 1979 money to finance his chase of Stephenson.

The novel, published in 1979, is much better than the ABC series, which may help explain why the show was canceled so quickly.

The Devil's Workshop, published in 2014, is the third installment of Grecian's excellent Murder Squad series featuring Walter Day and Nevil Hammersmith. It seems that there is a secret group of prominent men, including some present and former police officers, who think prison is too good for criminals like Jack the Ripper. Jack stopped killing only because he had been captured and taken to a torture chamber in the London underground. A prison break is orchestrated, not to set prisoners free but to move them underground where they can be given the punishment they deserve. The plan goes awry, however, and not only do these violent criminals escape, but so does Jack the Ripper.

Things turn very violent before Day and Hammersmith stop the chaos. The action ends at Day's own home, where his dear wife is having their first baby. Yet this doesn't end the story, for one of the men who escapes is another mass murderer called the Harvest Man. Day and Hammersmith must deal with him in the next book in the series, The Harvest Man, now in paperback.

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