The Ripper's Time by Mark R. Vogel (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2016)
What if we could turn the clock back to 1888, knowing what we know about profiling the characters of serial killers, DNA evidence, analysis of fibers left behind at a crime scene, and lifting fingerprints from surfaces that once were deemed impossible to obtain? Would we be able to identify capture, and prosecute Jack the Ripper, the first infamous serial killer of modern times? Even today, 126 years after the heinous crimes, there are detectives, amateur and professional, as well as a plethora of authors who continue to look for the one clue that will reveal, unequivocally, the identity of the elusive Whitechapel killer.
The Ripper's Time, by New Jersey native, Mark R. Vogel, is the fruit of Vogel's ten year study of the grippinng case. Vogel's story seesaws between two periods of time: August/September of 1888 and September 2014. The hero of The Ripper's Time is not the typical, hunky sleuth. Rather, Professor Henry Willows is an instructor at Garden State University in Morristown, NJ. He has been teaching history and criminology at GSU for fifteen years, and students flock to his lecture on Jack the Ripper, a subject about which he has written a definitive text.
Willows is described as “small-boned, but not frail, stood five feet eight inches. He had wavy caramel brown hair and was clean-shaven His brown eyes were soulful, even when steeped in the melancholia that often plagued him. His features were slightly effeminate. Most women thought he was cute. Henry had no idea.” (p.11) Despite the efforts of Willows' best friend and colleague, Jay Flugel, to get Henry to barhop and check out the hottest chicks around, Professor Willows is pining for the one woman he can never have; Catherine Eddowes, one of the unfortunate victims of the Ripper. Eddowes differed from the other unfortunate women who had had the bad fate to meet Jack the Ripper during the brief period of his depraved crimes in that she never resorted to prostitution to make a living.
Unable to contain his feelings for Eddowes, Henry has an outburst in one of his classes during a discussion of the victims of Jack the Ripper. “Catherine Eddowes was not a common whore! Both John Kelly, the man she lived with, and Frederick Wilkinson, the deputy of their lodging house testified at her inquest that she was or moral character and did not prostitute herself!” (p. 28) The class is taken aback by Professor Willow's defense of Eddowes in that he is so passionate about his feelings for her. He goes on to cover up his passion by expressing his sorrow at the plight of poor, single women of the Victorian era who had little opportunity to support themselves financially other than selling their bodies.
Then, a modern miracle occurs. Flugey, Willow's barhopping buddy, introduces Willows to Kaspar Biedermeier, a German physicist on campus, who has a possible solution to help Henry rescue his unrequited love. “You've been studying the Ripper all your life?” Biedermeir says to Henry when they are introduced. “Well, I've been studying time travel. I've been at an impasse for quite some time. Like you I started grasping for straws. I placed an ad in over twenty scientific journals, identifying myself and providing my GPS coordinates. I endangered my career.” (p. 57) Despite the risks to his future, Biedermeir had successfully procured a time machine. “It's from my great---sixteen times---granddaughter from the year 2477. My ads started running one month ago. Two weeks later, I came to work, entered my storage room and discovered this.” (p. 57) A letter from his great-granddaughter, a physicist in London, had accompanied the mysterious machine, noting that Professor Willows would come to call with a request to be transported to 1888.
And so, Henry's risky journey into the past, is borne of trust that he is willing to put into a “mad” scientist who claims that not only can he send Willows back in time to attempt to change the past, Biedermeir can bring him back to the future using an object called a transvector.
While Professor Willows is being introduced to the idea of time travel, the intervening chapters detail the progression of Jack the Ripper's bloody escapades. Martha Tabram, the first lady to encounter the Ripper's knife, having spent her rent money on drink on the evening of August 6, 1888, espied a handsome, well-dressed gentleman, who claimed to be taking a late night stroll to escape the sadness of losing his wife the year before. The unlikely pair step into a dark stairway of a tenement, where the drunk Martha plops down and prepares for business. Suddenly, the gentleman turns into something else altogether, a madman. “He was strong and maniacal. He clenched his teeth and held her head against the steps. Martha flailed her arms, but it was useless. . .Releasing her throat he withdrew a seven-inch ivory-handled double-edged dagger from his coat. He plunged the full length of the blade into Martha's chest.” (p.9)
Martha's body is discovered the next day and Inspector Reid, the detective on the case, sends for a medical examiner, Dr. Timothy Killeen. After conducting a postmortem, Killeen makes this prophetic statement to Reid. “I'm saying that the killer didn't murder her for an external reason. He killed her because he enjoyed it. It's in his blood. He's going to do it again, and he's going to keep doing it until you catch him.” (p. 21)
Dr. Killeen's prediction will come true, unless Professor Willows of Garden State University can be transported back in time to prevent the murders of the other unfortunate victims, and meet the woman of his dreams, Catherine Eddowes.
The Ripper's Time is engaging, romantic, and has bursts of humor that lighten up a subject that is mercilessly humorless. The reader can't help but cheer on the serious and kind Professor Willows. Vogel's prose is an interesting blend of contemporary vocabulary interspersed with language reflective of the Victorian era. Willow's manner of speaking has the lilt of Victorian speech; his manner of expression is somewhat stiff for modern life, but it suits his interest in that quaint time. However, Vogel doesn't go overboard with the Victorian vernacular.
Mark R. Vogel's new novel can be purchased at Amazon.com. You can visit Vogel's website at markvogel.info. Currently Vogel is working on a sequel to his first book, Crestwood Lake.