Title: Sherlock Holmes & The Ripper of Whitechapel
Author: M.K Wiseman
Genre: Historical Fiction
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The Excerpt …
In the many years in which I have been a Holmesian, I have occasionally encountered folks who suggest that this crime or that could possibly have been solved or even foiled by the great detective, had Sherlock been on the case. Jack the Ripper is one such case and though such wishful thinking generally comes from a desire to see evil thwarted—or, in some instances, an individual not realizing that Sherlock Holmes was purely fictional—as a writer of historicals (fantasies, normally) I could not resist the urge to turn my pen towards Whitechapel to satisfy this literary curiosity.
That said, the murders are true. To me, this meant approaching the project from a place of hallowed respect for the fallen. No Hollywood-style dramatizing; no sweeping, sudden saves for a made-up would-be-victim. As such, when people are queueing to gawk at the crime scene, as in this scene from chapter 1 of Sherlock Holmes & the Ripper of Whitechapel, or an eyewitness speaks up—it happened. It happened just about that way, save for one key difference . . . enter Sherlock Holmes:
We returned to the scene to question what witnesses the police had gathered. By now a queue had formed in spite of efforts to deter gawkers. An enterprising neighbour had taken it upon themself to profit from the tragedy. People were paying a penny to view the yard out back of number 29.
Mrs. Richardson, who lived above the ground floor shop, was irate. “Tell ’em there’s nothing to see. I’ve a business here. I’ve a home. And you, you leave my son alone. He’s done no wrong.”
This last came with a finger wagged at me, and I looked to Mr. Chandler.
“The apron is evidence against the man we’re eager to capture, woman,” Commissioner Warren stepped in to explain. “And so, if you claim the article belongs to your son? Well then, we must see it through.”
I turned away from the scene and focussed on the other woman whom the police had questioned. Solid and matronly, her face carried both the wan paleness of a troubled mind and the sharp glint of determination. This was a witness with something to say and would say it to any who would listen. I decided to try her.
“You saw the man. Did you also see the woman?” Approaching, I began without preamble, startling her into candour.
She nodded and said, “I was walking westward to Spitalfields at five thirty when I saw a man and a woman standing up against the shutters of number 29. Her face I saw but the man’s I could not, as he had his back to me. He was a little taller than the woman. Perhaps a half a foot, but then he wasn’t standing straight.”
“Did either appear intoxicated?”
“No, sir. Neither appeared the worse for drink. They were just . . . leaning. Talking. I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t even have a good look at his face. Only hers.”
“They were talking,” I prompted. “About what?”
“I am not sure. I heard him say ‘Will you?’ and her respond with ‘Yes,’ but that’s all I remember. I didn’t attach any importance to it until I heard about the murder and knew I might have seen the man that the woman was talking to, the man who done it.”
“You’ve seen the victim then?” This surprised me.
“No, sir. But the timing—I remember the clock chiming. It couldn’t have been anyone else.”
“And the man’s appearance?”
“Foreign. Maybe. And no older than forty. Again, I didn’t get a look at his face. He didn’t look like a worker, though, from his manner of dress. He looked like, what I should call, shabby-genteel. He had on a brown felt hat with a low crown and a long, dark-coloured coat.”
When it appeared no further details were to follow, I smiled and gave the witness my thanks. I looked around to find the police had lost in the war against curiosity. Sir Charles and the rest were adrift in a growing crowd of onlookers. He caught my eye and sidled close. “Now you see what it is we’re dealing with here.”
I wanted to point out that, what we had in Hanbury Street at present, was not near what we were truly dealing with. But then he well knew the scope of the situation.
“Fifteen more and then I give myself up.”
With little left to do there, I begged leave and promised I would consult with Inspector Lestrade as soon as I had a theory of any value. Returning home, I found that, in my absence, I had missed a visit from Watson. A spent cigarette marked the minutes he had waited before going on his way.
And there my traitorous brain betrayed me. The whole of the ghastly scene had replayed in my mind as I had ridden home, a shadowy figure occupying the role of the mysterious Whitechapel Murderer. Each time, I had found it harder and harder to get past the damning fact of the cigarette butts left beneath the chalked taunt to the police—to taunt me! And here was that same clue come home to Baker Street.
“Bradley, Oxford Street” had read the stamp upon the two stubs. So, too, read the remnant left behind in my apartment by my friend. This was what had so shocked me at Hanbury number 29. Cigarettes from Watson’s tobacconist. At a murder scene.
The establishment itself lay not even one mile south of 221 Baker Street and had, of course, innumerable customers. Going there would produce nothing save frustration and the eventual sideways glance from both owner and patronage. And though my Watson was hardly the only man to patronize that shop, the evidence spoke to the class of man who had been in 29 Hanbury in the early hours of the morning.
We were looking for a gentleman wholly out of place in that street and yet someone who nobody noticed while everyone was looking for him. A person who would have had blood upon their hands and clothing. A butcher who ripped entrails from women and left them dead in gutters. A criminal who had, by his own claim, struck five times already and hoped for fifteen more. A man who had struck, seemingly, at random and yet also decided to make this case personal . . . for me.
By the time the evening Star shone its headlines upon the city, my own mind had sunk into a haze of tobacco and consternation. They, of course, had everything wrong, as the papers often do. But the overall effect remained stamped upon all of London’s psyche, Baker Street’s included:
HORROR UPON HORROR. WHITECHAPEL IS PANIC-STRICKEN AT ANOTHER FIENDISH CRIME. A FOURTH VICTIM OF THE MANIAC.
About the Book
I am afraid that I, Sherlock Holmes, must act as my own chronicler in this singular case, that of the Whitechapel murders of 1888. For the way in which the affair was dropped upon my doorstep left me with little choice as to the contrary. Not twelve months prior, the siren’s call of quiet domesticity and married life had robbed me of Watson’s assistance as both partner and recorder of my cases. Thus, when detective inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard required a lead—any lead—I found myself forced to pursue Jack the Ripper alone and without the aid of my faithful friend. And all for the most damnedable of reasons:
Early on in my investigations, Dr. John H. Watson, formerly of 221b Baker Street, emerged as my prime suspect.
About the Author
M. K. Wiseman has degrees in Interarts & Technology and Library & Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her office, therefore, is a curious mix of storyboards and reference materials. Both help immensely in the writing of historical novels. She currently resides in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.
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Happy Reading, x