The Ripper's Time
Review & Interview by David Green
Ripperologist 154 February 2017
Time travel frequently crops up in Jack the Ripper fiction. Often it is Jack himself who travels back and forth in time, killing in different decades or centuries; sometimes it is a homicide detective or a descendant of one of the victims who jaunts back to 1888 to pursue the Ripper and put a stop to his deadly activities. There’s always room, I feel, for one more Jack the Ripper time travel yarn, especially if it combines an instinct for character and story with authentic period scenery and a relish for the intimate details of real history.
Author Mark R. Vogel uses time travel to great effect in his novel The Ripper’s Time. He has produced an exciting page-turner that is also a meditation on love and death, and a powerful imagining of a life lost and reclaimed.
It tells the story of Henry Willows, a history professor and Ripper scholar from 21st century New Jersey, who travels back in time to try and prevent Catherine Eddowes from being murdered. It’s not really a science fantasy novel, although it makes use of some of the tropes and conventions of time travel fiction. It’s more of a love story and a historical murder mystery. Yet it’s a mark of the author’s skill as a writer that to begin with I wasn’t entirely sure if I was reading a love story or a case study in obsession and abnormal sexual desire. The professor’s infatuation with Catherine Eddowes and his adamant pursuit of her through time and space comes across a lot like stalking.
While the science underpinning time travel isn’t explored in any detail, the novel is nevertheless attuned to the paradoxes thrown up by the idea of meddling with the past. If Catherine is saved, might other women die in her place? Mark Vogel has great fun with the concept of the Ripper scholar abroad in 1880s London. Willows savours the city and its suburbs with the elation and curiosity of a tourist: he visits Tower Bridge (under construction in 1888) and he passes New Scotland Yard where he knows a torso will be found several months hence. He takes Catherine on a shopping extravaganza, and they go to the Prince of Wales Theatre to see the comic opera Dorothy. The book brims with these kinds of loving inconsequential details. And the novel captures superbly the sense of joy and giddy estrangement at being alive in the historical past. The time travel elements are actually quite unobtrusive and (paradoxically) they work to enhance the believability of the tale rather than distracting from it.
The book is at its most affecting in its quiet, rueful moments, when the author dwells on the wonder of small shared things that bring Henry and Catherine together. There are many intimate and unsettling moments:
He found Catherine sprawled on the bed in her undergarments, surrounded by his Jack the Ripper books. Two of them were opened to the chapter on her. One displayed her mortuary photographs.
“Darling, are you all right?”
“I don’t know what I am. I’ve never read about me death before. And these horrible pictures.”
The Ripper’s Time is a fast-moving, tightly-plotted story set against a well-researched and convincing historical background. It alternates elegantly between moments of fear and terror and melancholy observations on life and the passage of time. But it’s also great fun to read: the book’s rife with escapist pleasures ‒ tense situations, action- packed drama, moments of farce and black comedy, lots of unexpected twists and turns, as well as grim excursions into the dark recesses of the human mind.
A CONVERSATION WITH MARK R VOGEL
January saw the release of Mark R Vogel’s second novel, The Ripper’s Time (reviewed above). We caught up with the author and asked him a few questions about his book and Ripper studies in general. Interview conducted by email on February 24.
Q1. Can you tell us something about yourself and your background? How long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I’ve been a clinical psychologist for 30 years. At one point in my career I worked for the state prison system where I did parole evaluations, interviewing hundreds of murderers, sexual deviates, and other assorted criminals. This sparked my interest in forensic psychology and my eventual study of the Ripper case.
I also love food and wine and decided to pursue that professionally as well. I graduated from cooking school in 2003. For years I taught cooking classes and edited cookbooks. Currently I give classes on wine.
Since 2002 I’ve been writing a food & wine column called Food for Thought. In 2013 I wanted to try something different so I started writing fiction. My first novel Crestwood Lake, a horror mystery, was published in 2015. Then came The Ripper’s Time in 2017.
Q2. What’s Crestwood Lake about?
Crestwood Lake is a small town in northern Vermont where there has been a series of strange deaths and rumours of witchcraft. The protagonist, the chief of police, must uncover the truth of what is happening to his town and how to combat it.
Q3. Can you remember what first stirred your interest in Jack the Ripper?
Philip Sugden’s book The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. I think I’ve read it four or five times by now.
Q4. I believe you lecture on the Ripper case and give slide shows presentations. Can you tell us a little about that?
I give a lecture accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation about the case at numerous libraries in my home state of New Jersey. During my trips to London I have photographed all of the murder sites and associated locations, allowing me to give the audience “then and now” photos of the crimes scenes and other locales.
Q5. Let’s turn now to your Jack the Ripper novel, which came out at the start of this year. How’s it been received so far?
It’s only been two months but I have had two professional reviewers praise it. A handful of readers have also contacted me and their impressions were even more favourable.
Q6. Briefly, The Ripper’s Time is a story about a present-day history professor who travels back in time to try and prevent Catherine Eddowes from being murdered. Even though you use a time machine to get your protagonist back to 1888, I’m sensing you might not regard the novel as a work of science fiction.
You are absolutely correct. The time machine is merely, pardon the pun, a vehicle for getting the story to where I want it to be. The time travel occurs at the beginning and the end. Everything in-between is the heart of the story which has nothing to do with science fiction. I consider my book historical fiction.
Q7. How did the idea come to you to use Catherine Eddowes as the female lead? What is it about her that
Ripperologist 154 February 2017
would have besotted Professor Willows and made him want to risk so much to save her?
This is not going to sound very insightful coming from a psychologist, but there’s something - I’m not exactly sure what - that has intrigued me about Eddowes, more than the other victims. Maybe it’s Eddowes’s mortuary photos, especially the one where you can see her entire body. It makes her seem more real to me. The victims’ photos before her are just fuzzy head shots. And Mary Jane Kelly’s image is so mauled and faceless, that it’s harder to relate to her.
Q8. Professor Henry Willows is not your typical adventure story hero - he’s middle-aged, on medication, bookish and unworldly, a little accident- prone, and full of vulnerabilities. He spends a lot of time behaving like a tourist - and of course, in many respects he is a tourist! But he makes an excellent everyman hero. Did the character evolve as you wrote the book, or did you have a fairly clear picture of him before you started?
I had a clear picture beforehand. I didn’t want a stereotypical, he-man, John Wayne type. First, because my protagonist in Crestwood Lake, Captain Butch Morgan, is a traditional tough-guy. I wanted something different for The Ripper’s Time. Secondly, it made more sense to me that a history professor would be less macho.
Q9. You went for Inspector Helson as the main Metropolitan police presence in the novel. Again, an unusual choice. I don’t think much is known about Helson. Is that possibly why he appealed to you?
Helson made the most sense because he investigated the Nichols murder. Henry begins his quest to stop the Ripper with the Nichols killing, and (not wanting to give too much away), you know what happens next. Naturally Helson would be involved.
Q10. There are a couple of chapters where you delve into the traumatised childhood of Jack the Ripper. And in the course of the novel, Professor Willows expounds a detailed psychological and geographical profile of the Ripper. Does this sketch of the Ripper largely mirror your own assessment as to the type of person the perpetrator may have been?
Willows’s psychological assessment of the Ripper is for the most part, what modern day profilers assume to be his distinguishing features. As to my chapters on the Ripper’s childhood, naturally I had to take some artistic license. But I would not be surprised if at least some of what I described actually took place. After all, a killer as twisted as the Ripper doesn’t hail from an idyllic childhood.
Q11. Your novel is obviously the result of many months of intense and dedicated research. Writers often say that research is a lot more fun than writing, and that writing is the hardest work of all. What’s been your experience?
Normally I prefer the writing to the research, but not for this book. I enjoy studying the Ripper case so I would say I liked both equally.
Q12. You’ve been to the East End several times and visited the crime scenes, or what’s left of them. Did you draw anything meaningful from the experience?
Absolutely. It brought the case to life, as opposed to just being this story in a book. For example, I walked directly from the Berner Street, (now Henriques Street), crime scene to Mitre Square, quite possibly retracing the same steps as the Ripper, timing my journey. It gave me much more of a sense of the original happenings. Visiting the sites where Eddowes walked, lived, and died, and then visiting her grave, was a powerful experience. It was quite moving, to say the least.
Q13. I suspect you’re not thinking right now of writing a sequel to The Ripper’s Time. But can you see yourself returning to Jack the Ripper in the future, perhaps to write a nonfiction work about the case?
Perhaps. I’ve toyed with the idea, but I don’t think I have much to offer, in terms of non-fiction, that hasn’t already been covered by others.
Q14. What do you read for pleasure? And what’s next for you as a fiction writer?
I actually don’t read much fiction. I prefer to read books about history. I recently purchased a new book about the Salem witch trials. As for my next venture, I’m working on the sequel to Crestwood Lake. Readers can peruse my food and wine articles, recipes, and my lecture schedule at my website: markvogel.info
DAVID GREEN lives in Hampshire, England, where he works as a freelance book indexer. He is currently writing (very slowly) a book about the murder of schoolboy Percy Searle in Hampshire in 1888.
y professor back in time, stop the world’s most infamous serial killer, and sAvailable at amazon.com and amazon.co.uk