I'm grateful to Australian critic and publisher Lutz Barz who has recently read and reviewed 'A Study in Red - The Secret Journal of Jack the Ripper'
What follows is his review:
Brian L Porter’s ‘A Study in Red – The Secret Journal of Jack the Ripper’ Reviewed by Lutz Barz,(RS Publishing).
A tragic road accident kills Robert’s father, who coming from an esteemed line of practicing psychiatrists sets in motion events leading to some very unwelcome revelations. The family skeleton is rattled as Robert is about to find out. On compassionate leave, with his wife Sarah away at friends to help with the delivery of a baby leaves Robert time to collect his thoughts. The family solicitor acting on his deceased client’s instructions pertaining to the will hands over a parcel of notes.
To Robert’s surprise it is a journal dating back to well over a century ago. It purports to be the thoughts of his great great grandfather dealing with a difficult case and an even worse situation he then found himself in. The skeleton has woken. For there is a dire warning: if made public it would destroy the hard work of his ancestor and disgrace the family’s professional credibility. A further warning in a covering note suggests `If you feel you cannot turn the first page – consign it to a deep vault…’ warning the contents are of `grave significance.’
As Robert has several days to himself he studies the strange and somewhat disturbing evidence which is either a gross delusional deceit or it is `the ravings of a lunatic’ of one who `knew too much’, one who was not stopped in his tracks. The evidence suggests an admission to murder most foul without the slightest compunction of remorse.
Surprised yet fascinated by the undoubtably veracity of these horrendous declamations contained within these old pages soon has Robert plunging into a dark labarynth. Its deleterious contents vomited forth from an extremely disturbed soul. Far beyond the rational excitement of a fevered mind. Robert muses that `I was about to be taken, perhaps too closely, into that dark world’ of Victorian London, the cosmopolitan city of the then greatest power on the planet.
A teeming vibrant city revealing both its splendour and the great achievements of the Industrial Revolution whilst there gestated, in dim alleys and dark passageways the underbelly of that vast place. In cesspools of extreme poverty the fallen, the poor, the weak, the sick, the demented, the drunken masses engaged in lightening their daily burden in the many public houses whilst being told in depressing sanctimonious sermons of their moral decline by narrow minded puritans. Society had thrown up, had created a vast underclass of the desperate and the destitute which polite society acknowledged as a given, god punishing the wicked. It was accepted that the poor were poor because divine fiat deemed them as such in their miserable conditions. It reflected the wretchedness of their sinful souls. What you sow you reap. And the grim reaper cut many women of the night down. The henious criminally insane mind of the murderer brought to light in this ledger, this exultant exclamation, dispatching the women of the night in a revolting orgy of blood and gore.
The journal was surely written by a madman. `The voices hissing at me through the gas mantle, the lights flickering, screaming [to] avenge the pitiful whores [for] I am justice, I am death! What foul pestilence they spread [since] I am the instrument of fear’ and worse. What Robert discovers as he slowly reads the journal with rising revulsion is that this mentally unstable character always obeyed his voices.
The journal’s bloody trail, the testament of a demented soul fervently following his murderous obsession in the brooding filthy streets of London’s slums becomes a diabolical exultation in the riven darkness of one possessed yet exultant in the morbid deeds he exacts to cleanse society of the booze besoten whores. `I’ll do them all, filthy, rotten bitches, whores, I’ll send them all do hell!’ It is more like hell arising within the mind of this tormented individual. His plagued mind presenting to Robert’s astonishment all too realistic the visceral demise of these innocent victims whose only crime was to be left by the wayside in the relentless onward march of civilised, respectable society who barely acknowledged the mutilated victims’ existence. Except in the `Penny Dreadful’s’ and leering newspaper editors attuned to the public’s morbid fascination, whence these women risked both body and soul merely to survive. Revealed in the yellow press this utmost of fearsome murders presented in purple prose the gory detail of their demise to their contemporary readers.
As Robert reads this sickening journal, he is led further into the nightmare journey of this deranged killer. Robert who alone in his comfortable house soon is under the impression that the contents of these malignantly influenced sinister ravings is creating an `oppression in the air, a malevolence [that] transcends the years’ to reach into the present, the here and now, in his cosy study. The family skeleton has not been merely woken; it has started to stalk Robert himself through the deluded contents of this vicious killer’s imagination.
Robert feels his own inner equilibrium deeply disturbed as the journal’s blood splattered admission reveals `the gradual decline from sanity into the abyss of the psychosis about to envelope the tortured soul of the hapless victim’, as the murderer struggles with his inner demons.
The more Robert reads of this deranged testament the more he understands the dastardly deeds of this very rational yet very insane being glorying in the heiniousness of his blood soaked crimes. Robert himself feels `My mind clouded by thoughts of death, of a crazed madness running out of control, towards an inevitable climax of destruction, but whose, his or mine?’
The descent into the killer’s world, this nightmare journey, depicts a disturbing portrait of manipulated madness heaving beneath the surface of bourgeoise respectability. The journal’s disturbing revelations bring forth not just Robert’s great great grandfather own dreadful secret but also the identity of the murder himself.
Brian Porter’s immaculate yet judicious use of language creates a truly deranged mind who’se whole essence is slowly decaying with the onslaught of the madness which possesses and guides him on this bloody path into the demonic world of the criminally insane.
The pace is executed with a delicious anticipating dread. The reverberations, both from the dark dysmal past and the cloudy confusion, the deranged seeds of a fervent mind hell bent on ridding society of what this foul murderer sees as bordering on the divine, to him that is. These notes from the past draws us through Robert’s eyes into a world which only practicioners of this inexact science, psychiatry still flounders in the dark, seeking an answer that hovers beyond their limited comprehension. For this, his great great grandfather carried a great burden to his grave. One made clear to Robert by way of a sinister confession. Like Robert, ensconsed in comfortable middle class obscurity, one only reads about the demented delusions of such tortured minds that seem through no rhyme or reason to possess their victim’s cataclysmic destruction, overwhelming their humanity, threatening ours. In Robert’s case from beyond the grave.
The novel with its dark undercurrent does not merely focus on the journal itself. It is more than just the `the place where his thoughts and his `voices’ had entrapped and entombed him in a web of evil beyond rational belief’. Brian has woven in serendipity into the plot as well. Extremely cleverly crafted as the descent into madness progresses, expands and threatens to overwhelm both the psychotic killer along with Robert as well. As the lunacy increases in strength certain disturbing phenomena appear almost in tandem in the world outside, to underline how precarious not just our perception of reality is so contingent, but how dark forces lurk beneath the polite appearance of civilised society.
Then there is the ending. It could have been conventional. Yet it is not. The story is extremely well written, crafted would be more appropriate as Brian reincarnates the ravaging violent doom the killer visits upon his eviscerated corpses, whilst the fiend wreaks his havoc on Robert’s steadily slipping grip of his own precariously and threatening to unhinge, sanity.
Then when, satisfied that the phantasmagorical reality of this decaying mind and the malign tormenter has finally exhausted its nightmare world which had griped the murderer like roots striking deep into his stricken soul the end appears to have been safely arrived at. Appears, only to…
A well written, evocative, enthralling, riveting, enticing descent into a soul’s demented hell. In the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft or Clarke Ashton Smith.