What inspired your new series?
About five years ago I visited Whitechapel for the first time. Obviously I knew about the terrible murders that had taken place there more than one hundred years before and although many of the old buildings have been demolished, many remain. I found that if you know what you’re looking for, it’s possible to see beyond the immediate and picture the past. And that’s exactly what I started to do. I put myself in the shoes of an ordinary woman living in the area at the time of Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror. That’s how the character of Constance Piper was born. The only thing is, Constance isn’t “ordinary” at all.
The other main character in your story is Emily Tindall. How does she fit in?
I wanted to tell the story from two different viewpoints. There were many social reformers in Whitechapel at the time and Emily is one of the dozens of well-educated young people who wanted to help improve the living conditions of the poor at the time. Several of them were based at Toynbee Hall, which still exists as a teaching center in Whitechapel today.
In your Silkstone series, you drew on several real people. Have you done the same in this new series?
Yes. As a journalist and historian, I love to use existing facts as a basis for my stories. Several of the characters in “The Sixth Victim” were actually involved in some way with the Ripper murders.
What’s your favorite screen adaption of the Jack the Ripper story?
That has to be the 1988 Michael Caine version. The two-part series was shown on BBC TV to coincide with the centenary of the Whitechapel Murders. Caine played Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline, who investigated the murders in real life. However, the plot is wildly inaccurate, featuring suspects who aren’t at all credible. I also enjoyed From Hell (2001) with Johnny Depp, even though that version was also based on pure speculation and, quite frankly, fantasy. Stephen Knight’s best-selling book Final Solution is the main source for the adaptation, but it’s been shown to be inaccurate.
So who do you think Jack the Ripper was?
I’d be really foolish to say, although I know who he wasn’t – a doctor in a top hat and cloak. That’s the usual image of Jack, but the two eye-witness descriptions we have portray him as an ordinary working man who wears a peaked cap. Nor do I swallow Patricia Cornwell’s theory that the artist Walter Sickert was Jack. Her accusation is largely based on the type of paper used to write some of the letters purportedly sent by the murderer. It’s generally agreed, however, that most, if not all of the Ripper letters are hoaxes. I’m not sure we’ll ever know for sure, but perhaps that’s why the myth that surrounds the terrible murders persists almost 130 years on.
London’s East End, 1888: When darkness falls, terror begins . . .
The foggy streets of London’s Whitechapel district have become a nocturnal hunting ground for Jack the Ripper, and no woman is safe. Flower girl Constance Piper is not immune to dread, but she is more preoccupied with her own strange experiences of late.
Clairvoyants seem to be everywhere these days. Constance’s mother has found comfort in contacting her late father in a séance. But are such powers real? And could Constance really be possessed of second sight? Following the latest grisly discovery, Constance is contacted by a high-born lady of means who fears the victim may be her missing sister. She implores Constance to use her clairvoyance to help solve the crime, which the press is calling “the Whitechapel Mystery,” attributing the murder to the Ripper.
As Constance becomes embroiled in intrigue far more sinister than she could have imagined, assistance comes in a startling manner that profoundly challenges her assumptions about the nature of reality. She’ll need all the help she can get—because there may be more than one depraved killer out there . . .