With Christmas near, the evenings drawing in, the fog pooling in the alleys, and rapt listeners gathering closer round the fire to hear dark tales of quivering horror, now seems a good time to review Tales of Jack the Ripper, Ross E. Lockhart’s superlative collection of modern-day stories inspired by one of London’s most notorious sons. Or daughters. Or halfbreed offspring of drug-mutated monsters. Or deathless pursuers of fungoid parasites. Or any one of the 19 interpretations of that great unsolved mystery that you’ll find in this book.
Ross E. Lockhart, an author in his own right, has already built his reputation with his Lovecraftian anthologies The Book of Cthulhu and The Book of Cthulhu II, and Tales of Jack the Ripper showed that he could step out of the Cthulhu Mythos with aplomb. One of the great strengths of this collection, begotten by Lockhart out of his own small press Word Horde, is the amount of really good original fiction it inspired. The great stories credited as “original to this anthology” include “Termination Dust” by Laird Barron, “The Truffle Pig” by T.E. Grau, “Hell Broke Loose” by Ed Kurtz, “Juliette’s New Toy” by Joe Pulver, “A Pretty for Polly” by Mercedes M. Yardley, and many others. The much smaller number of reprints, such as Joe R. Lansdale’s “God of the Razor” and Ramsey Campbell’s “Jack’s Little Friend,” have the distinction of being, largely, small classics in their own right, but Tales of Jack the Ripper added quite a few to stand alongside them. Their titles may be familiar from other collections simply because they have been such immediate wins.
Some of the stories are faithful to time and place, dealing with the time and period of the Ripper murders. Others take more or less extreme leaps in one or both directions, such as Ed Kurtz’s relentlessly haunted “Hell Broke Loose,” or Orrin Grey’s “Ripperology.” As the latter suggests, many deal with the nature of the Ripper myth itself rather than the actual murderer or murders, and how and why he, she, it, or they became legendary in the first place, though not to a totally self-reflexive post-modern extent. As Lockhart says in his short introduction, “we don’t know jack about Jack, so he has become a quintessential boogyman. Which leads us to wonder, to ponder, to imagine. Because we are narrative-driven creatures, we make up stories to fill in the blank spaces.”
And obviously many of Lockhart’s stable of contributors let that drive run and run, in some cases far enough to include other, entirely fictional, villains like Fu Manchu or Moriarty. Of course, a few of the stories are inevitably weaker, though I won’t mention which, and one drawback of the cross-cultural multi-period approach is that there is less evocation of the shadowy, foggy ambience of Whitechapel that is almost another character in many renditions of the Ripper myth. But the strengths of the collection are considerable, and the prose is generally excellent. Any dogmatic Ripperologist who comes to this hoping only for period whodunits set in painstaking reconstructions of late Victorian London is going to be sadly disappointed – but they are about the only readers who will be.