It’s a curious thing that Jack the Stripper is the most prolific, uncaught serial killer in Twentieth Century British history and yet is largely forgotten, even by us Brits. Talk to most Britains about Jack the Stripper and they’ll think you have a lisp. One can only imagine that the soubriquet the press gave him was so close to THE serial killer that he just gets lost in the myth of the other Jack – an echo of Whitechapel in The Swinging Sixties
Not that he’s totally forgotten, of course, here Cathi Unsworth takes on the case in a really classy piece of British literary crime fiction. She goes full David Peace and James Ellroy on the case, taking the murders and weaving into them all kinds of other skulduggery and nastiness which – of course – stretches across every strata of society. One half of the narrative focuses on the policeman who discovers the first victim and then rises to the level where he’s investigating the others; this alternates with the story of a young British dress designer who has psychic visions of the murders. It allows Unsworth to have the best of both images of 60’s London: hard goings-on under the harsh lights of Soho, and the bright young things shining up the national (and international) firmament.
The first hundred pages or so are brilliant and as close to perfect as you’re going to get, but the book itself has a few niggling flaws: the tension lags in the middle, but perhaps more importantly Unsworth never finds a way to make the two halves of her narrative intersect – which really needs to happen. But qualms aside, this is a fantastically written, beautifully evocative snapshot of a long-ago London that wasn’t quite as swinging as we all imagine it.
Fancy some free short stories by yours truly. My collection ‘Something Went Wrong & Other Strange Tales’ is available for free now!