LETTERS FROM A MURDERER
By John Matthews
Exhibit A, October 2013 (Trade Paperback, $14.99)
Reviewed by Larry Jung
LETTERS FROM A MURDERER is the first book in the historical mystery series featuring New York police Detective Joseph Argenti and upper class English pathologist Finley Jameson. Set in 1891, Argenti and Jameson are teamed together to catch Jack the Ripper. The Ripper is continuing his killings and mutilations in America. The brutal murder of a prostitute in New York's 4th Ward, a neighborhood equivalent to London's Whitechapel (the location of the Ripper's original murders) bears the Ripper's signature. To remove any doubt, the Ripper, in an open letter to the newspapers, takes responsibility for the murder and publicly provokes Finley Jameson for Jameson's failure to stop the Whitechapel murders.
The team of Argenti and Jameson gets off to a rocky start. Argenti's working class background makes him mistrust the aristocratic, educated Englishman. Jameson is a brilliant pathologist, but his personal demons drive him to seek solace in opium. He doesn't allow people to get close to him except for his ward, Lawrence Biddell. Biddell is mentally disturbed but can function normally under Jameson's supervision. Lawrence is Jameson's all-around man, driving Jameson around in a hansom among other duties. But it is Lawrence's eidetic memory that proves invaluable to Jameson.
To complicate Argenti's and Jameson's investigation, Mike Tierney, a major crime boss, interferes in their efforts in order to consolidate his control of the police and city hall. Corruption riddles the police department and it is easy for Tierney to manipulate the police. Argenti stands in Tierney's way because the former is an honest cop. By discrediting Argenti by sabotaging the Ripper investigation, Tierney can get his own man into power.
LETTERS FROM A MURDERER is an "airport novel." That is, it is fairly long, but fast paced; superficially engaging to pass the time. An "airport novel" is easy to read because it is a tossed salad of familiar stock characters and well-worn subplots. To spice up the book, the author adds Jack the Ripper (who in a way is also a stock serial-killer character) and having Finley Jameson being one of the earliest criminal profilers.
Done well, this kind of fiction can be very enjoyable. LETTERS FROM A MURDERER unfortunately squandered a promising start. The author lapses into melodrama and cheesy clichés. The characters don't come to life. The ending was so predictable that I felt cheated. I groaned at the author leaving it up in the air whether the bad guy really dies (sequels?).
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