The Night in Question
Published by: Quercus
Release Date: October 1, 2015
On a summer evening outside the stage door of an East London music hall three lives are about to cross.
Comedienne Dot Allbones encounters a face she hasn’t seen in more than twenty years: Kate, once envied for her good looks, is begging for the price of a doss-house bed for the night.
Waiting for Dot in a hansom is fellow artiste and male soprano, Valentine St John. Valentine is soon to add a new follower to his claque of ardent fans: the mysteriously wealthy Dr Townsend. What is Townsend’s business in London? Where does his money come from? Is he just a man-about-town, or could he be in the pay of American Fenians?
Sometimes you don’t see what’s coming because you’re looking so intently in the wrong direction.
It is 1888 and Saucy Jack is sharpening his knife.
The Whitechapel Murders of 1888 are possibly the most written about, dramatized, mythologised crimes ever. A movie maker’s dream set in foggy London streets against the rattle and grind of hansom cab wheels. Never mind that there was no fog on the nights Jack the Ripper did his murderous deeds, nor that hansom cabs would have been a rare sight on those wretched East London streets. Why let the facts get in the way of an atmospheric story?
I’m as fascinated as the next person by unsolved crimes but what struck me whenever I read about the Ripper murders was how little attention was paid to his victims. ‘Prostitutes’ is the usual dismissive label stamped on them. We’re supposed to call them sex workers now, a politically correct nod acknowledging the undoubted importance of the service they offer. But Jack’s victims were hardly sex workers. They scrubbed floors or sold matches and in extremis would barter a hand job for the price of a glass of gin or a bed for the night. They were women reduced to the very lowest level of destitution by illness, drink or sheer bad luck. In 1888 there was no Social Security, no safety net.
The Night in Question grew out of my desire to breathe some life back into those women and set the record a little straighter. They were rough, tough characters but every one of them had a story and in death every one of them left a gap in someone’s life.
As to the identity of Jack himself, there are as many theories as there are stars in the heavens, some plausible, some easily discounted. Researching the book led me to draw my own conclusions and play my hand. Now, read on…..