Ripper: A Sherlock Holmes novel

Holmes_by_PagetI am a massive fan of Sherlock Holmes, but I had not originally ever intended to write a Sherlock Holmes novel. But then, one Christmas, I was watching a Sherlock Holmes film where he was pitched against Jack the Ripper. The film was bad – not the acting, but the basic writing of the script, and I almost exclaimed out loud that I could do a better job of Holmes versus Jack the Ripper.

Well, I had thrown down the gauntlet, and decided that I had no choice but to give it my best attempt. It did not take long to think of a new twist on Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper, a story which has been done more than once. Once I had that new twist, I began writing the novel, taking my time, trying to ensure that I had the correct feel to the novel. I did not try to write the novel using Conan Doyle’s style because, if I had tried to imitate the great man, it would only have come off as a bad pastiche, or worse. I told the tale in my own style.

In writing this novel I would have no trouble with Holmes, and his background, having gorged myself on his stories in the past. As to the villain… Well. I’m not one of those people who claim to be an expert, but I hope that I have done justice to both the facts, and the legend.

I knew that I would have no trouble with copyright, as the Conan Doyle stories are out of copyright in Britain, and only the Casebook is still in copyright in the US, and I was using no material from that work. Besides, there have been a great number of non-canonical works featuring Sherlock Holmes, some bad, some good. Some of them have been as fantastical as my tale.

Two of my favourites, of the stories not written by Conan Doyle, are The Giant Rat of Sumatra, by Richard L Boyer; and Exit Sherlock Holmes, by Robert Lee Hall. The second story is certainly something which Holmes purists may find a little odd, shall we say?

As to my Holmes stories, I am working on a second Holmes novel called Ravenstair which may see an eventual release.

Extract from Ripper – A Sherlock Holmes novel

It was the beginning of September, a cold morning made even colder by the brutal news carried on London’s newspapers that morning, as I made my way to 221B Baker Street to visit my good friend, Mr Sherlock Holmes. There had been a murder, discovered the morning before, a dark deed on the streets of Whitechapel, that poor and wretched part of London. According to the Star newspaper ‘no murder was ever more ferociously and more brutally done’; and for all the hyperbole associated with such sections of the press, it was a fact that I would concur with once I had availed myself of the details. Yet, on seeing that headline, I did not realise that I would soon be involved in trying to discover the truth concerning it. As a friend of the greatest detective in the world I should have realised that there was no crime above, or below, the attention of Sherlock Holmes.

People all along the streets were reading the news of this terrible crime. I could not understand how such an event could come to pass. For all the efforts of my friend, and of the police, crime not only continued to exist in London, but also appeared to thrive. Holmes had, without a doubt, made a difference. But what Britain sometimes seemed to need was an army of Holmes. Only then would crime be defeated.

I could hear people commenting on the murder, as I passed them by, people gathered around a shared newspaper outside some newsagents, examining what had been reported. I could hear them gasp, and mutter, and saw them shake their heads.

Mrs Hudson let me into 221B. It was clear from her face that he had availed herself of the morning’s papers, or had become conversant with the matter in some other way. She said nothing to me, except to confirm the fact that Mr Holmes was in, and that he was not engaged on some case that day. In fact Sherlock had not had an important case for over a month, ever since the affair which I have recorded as the adventure of the Greek Interpreter. It was during that most recent case that I had first encountered Sherlock Holmes’s brother, Mycroft, of the Diogenes Club, a most remarkable individual; his intellect, alongside that of his brother, has led me to my own conclusion that Holmes’s mighty intellect is inherited, and runs deep in his family; yet of his own ancestry Holmes has only said that he is descended from some country squires, and has not listed any geniuses as his forebears: in fact the only famous relative who Holmes has claimed to be related to is the artist Vernet; and I have yet to see Holmes sat at an easel painting landscapes, and would admit to being very surprised should I ever witness such an event.

As Holmes had not been engaged in a case I expected to find him in one of his morose moods, those dark moods which would seize him when he had nothing to occupy his prodigious intellect. A lack of something to challenge his thought process resulted in what can only be termed as to be misanthropy towards his fellow man, when even I would find his presence to be tiresome, sometimes. It was at such times that I feared that he would alleviate his ennui by chemical means. Far better, I thought, for him to be in a bad temper due to inaction, than to be made pacific as the result of his favoured seven per cent solution.

I opened the door to find the room surprisingly tidy. The morning papers, detailing the terrible crime in as much detail as was fit to print, were neatly laid out on his desk. The slipper of shag tobacco had recently been refilled. No files from any of the folders were strewn on the floor. The violin was in its case. Holmes was sitting cross-legged in his chair, looking alert. He uncurled himself as I entered, and stood up.

Watson! Good morning!” Holmes said, in suspiciously good mood. It was the sort of energy which my friend only usually exhibited while working on a case. To the best of my knowledge, though, he had no client to occupy him, so I cast my eyes around the room for the paraphernalia which Holmes used to administer his seven per cent solution. But there was no sign of them; and this was a genuine good humour on the part of Holmes; which led me to only one, possible conclusion.

You have a case?” I enquired, removing my hat and scarf, and placing them on the stand beside the door. They were followed by the light overcoat that I had worn as I had exited my surgery that morning, although the weather was probably fine enough that I could have left it at home. But it is wise, when visiting Holmes, to prepare for all eventualities. I took out a cigarette from my case, and lit it.

I have not seen a client since that last adventure which we shared.” Holmes averred. “But I have a mystery which may perhaps require me to avail myself of my skills. It is one which you are aware of, Watson: the murder of Mary Ann Nichols.”

You saw me looking at a newspaper.” I said, my brow furrowed in concentration. I recalled having paid attention to one of the newspapers as I walked along Baker Street. Holmes must have been at the window looking down onto the street. Not one detail could ever escape my friend’s observations.

Obviously.” Holmes said, the explanation dismissed.

The murder took place only yesterday, Holmes.” I said. “Are we to investigate this, Holmes? Even without a client?”

A client may yet arise, Watson.” Holmes said. He began to pace up and down, pausing only to pick up his long-stemmed pipe. “This is not a singular murder – or, if it is, I wager it will not be so for long. Have you familiarised yourself with the details of the case yet?”

I had to admit that I had not. There were too many murders in London each year for a person to pay attention to each one – even a person such as myself, the humble assistant to the world’s most renowned consulting detective. And this brutal crime had only just been reported in the newspapers. I did not see how Holmes could yet have had the ability to take account of any more details than that which had already appeared in the morning’s press.

Who else has been murdered, Holmes?” I asked, sitting down in a chair. “Have Scotland Yard asked for your assistance? Has Lestrade been here?”

Holmes stuffed shag tobacco from the slipper into the bowl of his pipe. He returned the slipper to its usual place. Soon the smoke from my cigarette would be joined by the mellow odours of his pipe.

Thankfully Inspector Lestrade is not involved with this affair.” Holmes said, his opinion of Lestrade well known to me. Having finished tamping down the tobacco he lit his pipe and began puffing away. “I suspect that Scotland Yard are aware of his limitations, and have been so for some time. Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, of Whitechapel CID, is currently in charge of this investigation, although he suspects that he will not be in charge of it for much longer.”

Was it Reid who asked for your assistance?” I asked. I knew Lestrade, as Holmes had ‘assisted’ him several times, but I was not conversant with this Edmund Reid.

No, it was Central Office at Scotland Yard.” Holmes said, drawing on his pipe, and holding the smoke within, before exhaling. Tobacco was a vice which I most wholeheartedly approved of; far better the harmless pipe than the seven per cent solution. “As soon as the nature of the crime became known they sent an officer to fetch me to examine the scene of the crime. I encountered Reid at the murder site, early yesterday morning.”

Holmes paused then, becoming pensive. I had expected him to give me a full description of the scene of the crime, but he did not, reserving the details, at least for the moment.

Reid is an unimaginative fellow, more suited to legwork than pure detection.” Holmes said. “Scotland Yard intend to call more men in, in their attempt to catch the killer. Reid believes that Abberline may be given command of this investigation.”

Abberline?” I asked. I had heard the name before, but could not recall having met the man. I was only familiar with such officers who I had encountered while assisting Holmes with his cases. But Holmes was familiar with most officers of Scotland Yard, by reputation if he had not encountered them during those cases which had not required my assistance. The names of these officers would be contained in the many scrapbooks which Holmes kept, recording crimes reported in the newspapers, as well as many other events whose reports he chose to store. No doubt Holmes had several clippings mentioning this Abberline, if he was a police officer of any importance. They would be somewhere in his bulging scrapbooks. They would be there, if I chose to look for them. But I had never fully grasped how Holmes chose to arrange the contents of his scrapbooks, utilising neither an alphabetical system, or the Dewey decimal system, but some method of his own devising.

Inspector Abberline is familiar with the Whitechapel area.” Holmes said. “He worked there in H division for nine years before transferring to CO Division at Scotland Yard. He is certainly more knowledgeable concerning the place than Reid. And Pinkerton’s Detective Agency consider him to be a capable enough person to have called on him for advice in the past. I consider that to be a worthy recommendation of his abilities.”

And this Abberline will be running Scotland Yard’s investigation of this murder?” I asked, wanting to ensure that I had the facts arranged correctly in my mind. Holmes had a habit of sometimes skimming over what he considered to be obvious: but was obvious to an intellect like his was opaque to that of we lesser mortals.

That is the opinion of Detective Inspector Reid.” Holmes said. “But we will consider this matter further over breakfast. I believe that Mrs Hudson has been smoking some kippers, and I have no wish to disappoint her. You will, of course, join me.”

Of course, Holmes.” I replied, even though I had breakfasted once. Mrs Hudson’s kippers were a delight not to be missed. And I was glad to see that Holmes was possessed, at least for the moment, of a healthy appetite. Too often had I seen my friend starve himself when troubled by the intricacies of some case. Foolishly I presumed that his hunger indicated that this new mystery would be one where there would be a speedy resolution.

Holmes put his pipe down, and walked to the door, opening it, and sticking his head out.

Mrs Hudson! We are ready for breakfast!” Holmes called down. Only a minute later Mrs Hudson appeared in the room, bearing a tray with that morning’s breakfast on it. There was a covered dish, containing her famous smoked kippers, as well as a metal rack with freshly buttered toast, and a pot of tea and two china tea cups and saucers. Before I had even arrived Holmes, as soon as he had seen me walking up Baker Street, must have informed Mrs Hudson that I would be taking breakfast with him. I might have been angry at the presumptuousness of Holmes had not Mrs Hudson’s food been so very good.

I helped myself to toast and poured some tea for Holmes and myself. I ate the buttered toast while it was still hot, knowing that Homes would divulge further details of the case once he was ready. My friend did not disappoint me. It took but the consumption of some toast and a single kipper to get Holmes to recommence his tale.

I was summoned by the police early yesterday morning to assist in the investigation of a dead body in Buck’s Row in Whitechapel. All that the officer who had been sent to fetch me could tell me was that it was the body of some woman.” Holmes said. It was clear that he disapproved of the lack of information which the officer had provided at the time. I suspected that it was likely that a police officer banging on the door of 221B Baker Street in the early hours of the previous morning would almost certainly have roused the uncomplaining Mrs Hudson. There were times when my friend, for all his skills of detection, failed to realize what a bad tenant he must be. But such matters were usually beneath his concerns. All that Holmes cared about were his cases; and, sometimes, it was up to the world to conform to his desires.

I went straight away to the scene of the crime.” Holmes continued. “The police officer accompanied me. His name was Jenkins, a young constable who I had not encountered before. The son of a blacksmith, if I am not mistaken.”

I did not ask Holmes how he had ascertained that Constable Jenkins was the son of a blacksmith, not wishing to delay the narrative. No doubt Holmes had observed some details which would have eluded me, and which informed his conclusions. Had I asked him to explain them, no doubt they would have appeared obvious, once he had done so.

Unfortunately by the time that I arrived at the scene of the murder the police had done their best to destroy what little evidence there may have existed. They had trod all around the body, obscuring any footprints of the murderer which might have been there. Even one set of footprints could have told a lot about the criminal, Watson.

I examined the ground for traces of cigarette ash, but found none, beyond what the police had themselves scattered while waiting for me to arrive. You really should get around to reading my monograph on the subject of cigarette ash, Watson, I am sure that you will find it to be most illuminating.”

Holmes paused to knock some of that selfsame ash out of his pipe, before continuing with his account. I had so far avoided reading any of the monographs which he had authored, not out of any disrespect for my friend’s abilities, but due to the reverse: when Holmes tended to write upon a subject his attention to minutiae was astounding, and beyond my more humble abilities to comprehend.

I was able to provide some obvious conclusions to the police, though.” Holmes said. “Had it been I who had discovered the body, of course, I suspect that I would have been able to divine much more.

It was clear that the murderer was right-handed; that he had some knowledge of human anatomy while not being a doctor himself; that he had lived in London for some time; and that he almost certainly carried a bag or valise with him while conducting his murders. Beyond those meagre observations I was not able to add, though, as the police had started to wash away what evidence remained even as I conducted my examination.”

Murders, Holmes?” I asked. “Have there been others by this individual, then? I only saw one mentioned in the newspaper.”

There may have been other attacks.” Holmes opined, looking thoughtful. The accounts are in my scrapbooks.”

I would prefer it if you explained them to me.” I said. His scrapbooks, recording crime, criminals, and related events, were becoming voluminous of late, and I could easily have browsed through for hours without happening on the correct snippet from whatever newspaper Holmes had pasted the account.

The first murder was in April.” Holmes said. “But I am by no means certain that event was connected with this one. It is the position of some police officers that it may be connected; but of others that it may not. The problem with the police that they seem to hold these views less upon evidence pointing in some direction, but purely on instinct. Please save me from a copper’s instinct, Watson, it has led to more miscarriages of justice than I care to mention.”

During the middle of April Holmes and I had been engaged in the case concerning Mr James Windibank. It always amazed me how Holmes could sometimes be striving towards conclusions in more than one mystery at a time, as though a single case was not enough for his mind.

The victim was one Emma Elizabeth Smith.” Holmes said. He saw that the name meant nothing to me, and continued. “She was a woman of uncertain means, who only income appears to have been down to the generosity of certain gentleman friends. It was believed by the police, at the time, that her murderer was one of these gentlemen who she entertained at her lodging house in George Street, in Spitalfields, although no arrest has yet been made. I took note of the crime, and made entries concerning it, but did not investigate further, as there appeared to be little mystery concerning her death, either as to how it had occurred, or as to the reason underlying it. Such women take their own lives in their hands, Watson, by living on the edge of civilisation, as they do. I had expected even the likes of Lestrade to find some client to have been responsible for her death, for further crimes are never far away in such cases. But her death has not yet been answered for: perhaps the police do not consider investigating the likes of Emma Smith to be a priority for them. Nor was it a priority for us, Watson, not then: if we were to investigate every such murder we would spend all of our lives examining the most obvious of crimes, while the greater ones go undiscovered and unpunished, beyond the limited abilities of the likes of Lestrade.

The second murder which may have a bearing on the death of Mary Ann Nichols took place early in August, on the seventh to be precise. This victim also lived in George Street in Spitalfields. It was that fact which first began to interest me, but I had still not seen any great mystery there, nothing which was out of the sphere of the local police. And, as they did not then ask for my assistance, and as there was no client, I let the matter rest.

The woman’s name was Martha Tabram, but I have since discovered that was not the name she was born with: her maiden name was Martha White. She also went by more than a single alias, as such women are wont to do, in an effort to avoid the attentions of the law.”

So both of these unfortunate women lived in George Street?” I asked. Spitalfields was a most unpleasant part of London, consisting of many common lodging houses, dwellings where multiple families would occupy the premises. It was an area which I would not have objected to seeing bulldozed, to rid London of those wretched houses, that could only produce equally wretched people.

One lived at number 18; the other at number 19.” Holmes said. “It is almost certain that the women knew each other. It is possible that they knew the murderer. However, I have no evidence of that as yet; and it is jumping to unwarranted conclusions that prevents the likes of Lestrade and Reid from advancing in the arts of detection.”

Holmes stopped speaking. He had finished his précis as to what had occurred so far. But there were some things which I did not as yet understand.

These two murders, unfortunate as they were, both occurred in Spitalfields.” I said. “Why do you think that they are linked to the death of this Mary Ann Nichols? Did you not say that she was killed in Buck’s Row in Whitechapel?”

There are certain commonalities between the three crimes.” Holmes said. “There is the question of the women’s ages: all three women were either in their forties, or close to that age. All three women were of a kind, as to their activities and their style of lives. And, although Mary Ann Nichols was discovered in Whitechapel, at the time of her death, according to Reid, she had been living in a common lodging house in Spitalfields, the same as the previous two victims. Two murders of women from that area, in similar circumstances, might be dismissed as coincidence. Three, I believe, cannot. I have observed, in my studies of criminals, and the working of the criminal mind, how they stick to a common modus operandi: housebreakers will use the same methods of entry; forgers will concentrate on perfecting the reproduction of a single type of article; and those who murder more than once will use the same weapons and procedures.”

But why, Holmes?” I expostulated. “Why are these women being murdered? What have they done which requires the killer to silence them so?”

This is a dark affair, Watson.” Holmes said. “And I believe that the end of it will be a long time coming. I believe that in these three murders that the motive for the crime is the act of murder itself; and that the killer, having tasted blood, will continue in these acts until he is either captured – or slain.”

I could not conceive of a criminal who would commit murder simply for whatever dark pleasure he took in those brutal actions. Although it was not cold in 221B Baker Street that morning I could not suppress a chill running down my back. And yet I still did not realise that soon Holmes and I would soon be engaged in a struggle with one of our most dangerous foes yet.

Ripper – A Sherlock Holmes novel is available as an e-book on the Amazon Kindle store.

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