Experience a new twist in the tale of Jack the Ripper, as seen through the eyes of renowned artist Walter Sickert. Though Sickert was not a suspect in the crimes during that time period, in modern times he has been identified as a person of interest.
Set fifteen years after the original murders, this story begins when Sickert’s apprentice, Robert Wood, is accused of murdering a prostitute in Camden Town and comes to Sickert for help. Believing Wood to be innocent, Sickert agrees to assist him, but his investigation reveals an uncanny similarity to the Ripper’s crimes years before. Soon he must face a horrible possibility: Jack the Ripper may have returned—or, all the more likely—the Ripper never left!
To save his friend, Sickert must uncover the true villain behind the original killings, following an unsolved case more than a decade cold. His search will lead him down an ever-twisting path toward a truth far more terrible than anyone could ever suspect—or believe!
Three days have passed since I saw the woman, dead and sprawled naked on her mattress covered only by her own blood, red like the brightest hue of paint carelessly spilled or splattered upon a canvas. A portrait, perhaps, of a tomato squashed underfoot, its juices and innards spread out around it. She had been like that. And now I couldn’t get the image out of my head.
It was not that I cared for the woman very much at all—I hardly knew her, in fact. She was simply a warm body that passed from port to port in the night. A momentary passion, nothing more—to most men, but I saw something different in her. Certainly she was pleasing to the eye—and thrilling to the touch—but that woman was a plague waiting to happen. Nevertheless, I wanted her. Though not the way most men wanted her. They yearned for her body; I lusted for her soul. For she was the epitome of greed and desire; the grim face of a lower class, even with one foot above the rest, striving for one penny more and never satisfied with what they’ve got. I wanted to make her immortal so the world would not forget this moment, this place, this circumstance as though I were placing a marker on time. Yes, I wanted her like no man had wanted her before, though I didn’t even know her name until twenty minutes after she died.
She had been the embodiment of the age, and now she was gone, as swiftly as my own time was slipping away. The Edwardian Twilight was only hours from its dawn, even though it had just barely begun. All the world as I had known it was about to change and make itself anew as the last vestiges of our Victorian past crumbled away like a decomposing corpse. I could feel it. The scent of decay was palpable upon the air, as evident as the smoke that day and night plumed from countless chimneys across London, casting a permanent gloom over all of England. If the fog didn’t get us, this new cloud would. Even then, I suspected, the winds of a new time were blowing this darkness aside. Though it had not begun with this day, but nearly twenty years before.
This girl, to me, had been a symbol of that change. While others of her “low” position struggled in discontent and misery, forced into a life of degradation they did not want nor like, she had seemed to thrive upon it. She was a new breed, barely even born when the last had been plying their trade just for a morsel to eat. Oh, how I wanted her plight to be known. Yet upon the heels of her demise, I thought that I may be able to make something out of her life, that her legacy, and the legacy of the age—the true legacy, that is, not the unrealistically cheery views of my so-called peers—might live on. Only my vision could make it so.
For I am Walter Richard Sickert. By now, you’ve probably heard all about me. But you should forget these things as I am not the man you think I am. I am nobody but the actor behind the mask. I paint the world as I see it—as it really is. There was no sugar coating here. For it would be a dishonesty not to show you things as they truly are, don’t you think? So this was my promise: I shall never lie. Grim as it may be, you shall only see truth through my eyes.
Though I had admired the woman from afar ever since I had returned to England from Dieppe, France several months before, I had never once met her, nor said more than a few words in passing. She was a frequent commodity at The Rising Sun, a tavern in which I spent a good deal of my own time cavorting with strangers and comrades alike. Though I was dedicated to my work, at times shutting myself off from the world to immerse myself only in my latest passion, I was nothing if not a social creature. Painting, or any creative art for that matter, was something like an obsession. Countless were the occasions that I would shrug off my friends for months at a time when I was in the midst of something new. Often I’ve been accused of neglecting my allies and social obligations when I was deep in the thrall.
But as it would happen at the beginning of the fall of this year, I had no such fires burning and could readily be found socializing—whether it was at a local tavern, an art opening, a new show at the Lyceum Theater, a grand ball, or what have you. My tastes ran through a great variety and I always looked for new experiences and impressions. Sometimes I read as many as five papers daily, and I can’t tell you how many books I’ve begun. (Though there are fewer that I’ve finished.) Even so, I’ve always had a particular interest in the seedier side of life. There was something about the people you find in such environs that was more honest in my view. They tend to put on fewer airs. When you don’t have a lot, you’ve got to be content with who you are, not pretending to be something else. In many ways, I’ve always felt these “unfortunates,” as many are wont to call them, are more real than anyone else I’ve ever met.
So I am oft to be found in these less than “respectable” establishments. As it was, when I first let my eye catch upon this girl—this woman—who had gained the title surely from experience rather than age, for she was really but a child when you looked upon her closely. I adored her long, dark hair and the thin, yet curvy lines of her body. The smile that came so naturally to her lips, and the playful twinkle to her eye as she laughed and flirted with the boys. This was not the kind of woman you found in the East End—old, miserly, gap-toothed hags, really, desperate for a meal, or a drink, or a place to sleep for the night. This girl was kept. She had a home, some nice things, and more than one pair of clothes. She even had a man to take care of her during the day when she would act like a respectable woman. Yet at night, when he was gone, she came out to play, to earn that extra shilling to keep her in comfort. Or perhaps she liked the attention. It had been my thought that she would make an interesting study, a different shade of the lower class. Even then my creative mind—what others might call my obsession—was beginning to churn like a slow-burning fire reluctantly heating up in a winter hearth.
But while I was contemplating her from an artistic point of view, my friend and would-be apprentice, Robert Wood (Bertie as his friends and close acquaintances were trained to call him) was admiring her from an entirely different direction. In the back alley ways, where men lined up by threes and fours, he had dipped his wick in an ink well so used that it had gone nearly bone dry. And he had taken a step further, where no man should dare to tread. He had fallen for the whore.
This was obvious long before Bertie had ever admitted it to me that night, three days hence, with his face soaked in sweat, and his clothes drenched until they were like loose flesh hanging from a boiled bone. It could be seen in the way his eyes lit up whenever she was near, and how they dimmed when she parted or filled with disappointment when she ignored him, and turned a hazy shade of green when she favored another man. I knew he was heading for trouble even then, though I never guessed how much.
On the morning of the eleventh, when I sat with him as he addressed the postcard asking her to meet him at The Eagle, another tavern of ill repute, I knew that nothing good would come of it. But I would have never guessed at the turn of events that would lead to him knocking on my door near 7:00 a.m. the following morning.