Behind the Scenes by SJ Bolton (author of Now You See Me)

Jack The Ripper 1888

Jack The Ripper 1888

Had I known what I was taking on, I’d never have found the courage to start.

A 21st C thriller based on Jack the Ripper seemed like a good idea when I first thought of it. Oh blissful ignorance!

First problem: the world is already Ripper obsessed. So many books, theories, films, documentaries, TV dramas. Halfway through research and planning, the fabulous Whitechapel was screened on ITV. ‘There go my film and TV rights,’ was my second thought. (My first was shorter and decidedly Anglo Saxon in nature) My original idea of a straightforward copycat killer was now dead in the water. (The Royal-family angle had been done to death too, so I had to wave goodbye to my House of Windsor-Major-Financial-Scandal idea.)

Second hurdle: before I could even think about the main thread of the story, I had to be clear about the backdrop. Not so easy. 100 years of Ripper fascination has produced mountains of information, liberally sprinkled with errors and misconceptions. Some years after the murders ended, senior police officers started writing memoirs. Not always strictly accurate. More books were written, based on the flawed earlier books. Mistakes were perpetuated, time and time again, until the errors became accepted facts. To find the truth behind the myth, I had to go back to original material.

Coroners’ reports, police reports, eye witness statements. Time consuming, but necessary, if I wanted to be taken seriously as a student of Ripper lore.

Well, I was glad I did. Because what strikes you first about these old murders is simply this: they were some of the most brutal, viscious and merciless crimes imaginable. Exceptionally vulnerable victims, in dark and filthy places, were overpowered by brute strength. Throats slashed to disable and silence them, these women were almost certainly still alive, probably still conscious, when a knife ripped open their abdomens, and their innards were pulled out to be left strewn around like litter.

The second truth to hit home, is how truly formidable a killer this was. He struck in the most densely populated parts of London, within yards of crowded inns and lodging houses. He killed in minutes and disappeared. He was clever, and very lucky. Dozens of police officers deployed on the case couldn’t catch him, neither could the vigilante groups the local populace set up. He was then, and remains to this day, untouchable.

Now You See Me

Now You See Me

So this was my challenge. Give a completely new and original twist to the most famous true-life murders of all time. Do justice to the brutality and inhumanity of the original crimes, without breaking my “keep it off the page” rule about gratuitous violence. Oh, and special instructions from powers that be at Transworld Towers, create two main characters who are compelling enough to make this book the start of a series.

I carried on reading about Jack, learning more and more about one of the most depressing periods in London’s history, getting equally depressed myself, because my story was eluding me. Then, one Saturday afternoon in May I was at a football tournament. My young son was playing, as were about a hundred others. There was an equal number of excited dads and coaches. I began to think about what happens to the male psyche when they have their clan around them, when their blood is up, when they have their heart set on a prize. It’s relentless, it’s ugly, it’s brutal. And this was just junior football.

My son’s team didn’t win that day. (They rarely do.) He was a bit downcast, but I was elated. The muse has whispered in my ear and I had my story.

Now You See Me (Bantam Press 26 May) is not about football or nine year old boys getting muddy and tearful. It’s about a city, terrorized once again by a brilliant and remorseless killer. It’s about a deeply private young woman who is the only officer in the Met who has a chance of catching him. And it is about the price she will have to pay to do so.

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1 Response » to “Behind the Scenes with SJ Bolton”

  1. Really enjoyed that piece and the book itself is creeping up behind me on my ‘to be read’ pile like a cloaked dark figure in a moonlit London backstreet……

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