Monday, December 27, 2010

"Once the Lurking Lust is Loosed-": Robert Bloch's "The Night of the Ripper"

Robert Bloch had a writing career that spanned sixty years, during which he wrote about Jack the Ripper four times.  “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper”, published in Weird Tales in 1943, presented the idea of the Ripper as an immortal making human sacrifices to stay that way.  He revisited the Ripper in “A Toy for Juliette” and the Star Trek episode “Wolf in the Fold”.  His most comprehensive look at the Whitechapel serial killer was in his 1984 novel The Night of the Ripper.     

The Night of the Ripper is replete with well-researched Ripper facts and historical detail: unusual slang (“buors” are prostitutes, “suckcribs” are beer halls), Victorian London locations and personalities involved in the case and, of course, gruesome descriptions of the bodies of the murder victims.

The background makes for entertaining reading, but the story itself is formulaic.  A wooden American doctor, Mark Robinson, joins forces with the dyspeptic Inspector Abberline to stop the fiend, while a nurse, Eva Sloane, provides the requisite love interest.  Characterization is weak and there are too many characters who are only introduced as potential Rippers.  Bloch feels the need to throw in cameos by Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw, and John Merrick, to no discernible purpose.  When Bloch reveals the real Ripper, it’s possibly the least interesting choice of all the suspects.

The Night of the Ripper is a quick read and might be worthwhile for Bloch’s detailed account of the setting and the crimes, but as a novel it feels hastily constructed and superficial.  The fact that at some points it seems virtually any character could be the Ripper, and a few ruminations on the beast within (“conceal it though we may, the beast is always there, waiting to escape”) suggest the deeper study of psychological aberration Bloch might have undertaken.       

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