Thursday, June 6, 2013

Researching the history - Jack The Ripper

Out of Hell and the sequel An Unspoken Betrayal, are two of the best books I’ve ever written. They are The Devane Files, books one and two. They were released early in my pro career, and have gone unnoticed by many people who are familiar with my work now, so I thought it might be time to revisit these old favourites and let you get to know the good Inspector Michael Devane.

The title for the first novella in this set was born in the very crime that is the backbone of the stories – Jack the Ripper’s famous note, signed “From hell” of course. Like many people, I’ve long been fascinated with the Ripper murders, partly because they will always be a mystery, but also because it shed light on so many things that people didn’t want to acknowledge at that time. Queen Victoria ruled, life was polite and ordered. Poverty was another world for the aristocracy of London at that time, and the working class district of Whitechapel quietly despaired and existed, the people of the East End surviving as best they could.

When notorious Jack started his bloody reign of terror, it awakened all of London to awareness of the East End. In Whitechapel terror gripped people who were well acquainted with fear on a daily basis, but nothing could have ever prepared people for the atrocities of the killings being committed there. The prostitutes of the district now had a lot more to fear than the police, or beatings, their lives were at stake every minute they plied their trade on the dark and narrow streets. Life would never be the same, even after the murders came to an end as abruptly as they’d begun.

When I decided to marry my fascination with the Ripper to historical erotic romance, it presented an interesting challenge. After a lot of thought, and a lot of reading and research to get the details correct, I began to formulate the story. First was the hero, a flawed, haunted man with clairvoyant vision, and an addiction to opium that was slowly killing him. He was part of the team investigating, part of Abberline’s hand-picked H Division unit. Because of his familiarity with Whitechapel, and his unique “talent” for investigation, he was on site after the murders. They haunt him still.

So, the Ripper is a few years in the past when Out of Hell opens, and we discover that Devane is now assigned to investigating “odd” crimes, and is not overly well liked by his superiors. So, imagine what awaits him when a bloody murder takes place at a town house in the heart of London society...and the lovely widow is his prime suspect. Devane’s past and his future meet and his entire life is about to change in ways even his vision couldn’t foresee...

Excerpt from OUT OF HELL:

             Devane had been a mediocre police officer, but several small cases that had baffled other investigators had been solved by his unorthodox and admittedly questionable methods. Like Fred Abberline, Michael Devane knew the district intimately, and he spent long periods of time actually living in Whitechapel. The locals trusted him. The prostitutes had laughingly befriended him in the first years of his adult life, and subsequently, the early days of his career with the police force. He had contacts that even Abberline didn’t have access to, and the then Inspector in charge of the ground forces, wanted Michael on his team. Strings had been pulled, and his transfer had been made in the space of days. If he’d known then what the events of the coming months would bring to his life, Devane might have chosen a more peaceful method for destruction of his mind, his emotional balance, and his life in general.
             Mist curled around his feet; the thick, cottony clouds of fog that were uniquely London clinging to his pants with cloying wetness. His footsteps, lost in the swirl of sickly white on the cobble-stoned ground, sounded vaguely muffled. He pulled the collar of his overcoat a little higher and glanced around. There were still people brave enough to walk the streets, but fear lingered behind the boldness of the gazes that met his stare, then slid away too quickly. He shuddered as he spotted The Ten Bells tavern, and the chill of the night sank deeper into his being. Almost four years since the Ripper murders, but it might have been yesterday to many. It felt like yesterday to him. Every time there was a particularly messy murder, it was attributed to the infamous Ripper; and there had been several that did, indeed, look like the madman’s work. After all, the police had never caught the notorious Jack the Ripper. Had they? A great number of people blamed Chief Inspector Fred Abberline. Others were not so specific and targeted anybody who was even remotely associated with the nightmarish case. Few people knew the truth. It would always be that way, too, he knew, truth being subjective, and loyalties as eternally ambiguous as the evidence. Conspiracy theories had abounded at the time of the killings, and many more had been formulated and put forth since those grisly days in the latter half of 1888.
             Devane’s sergeant, David Goodwin, chided him often for his penchant for inviting death, whether it was walking the Whitechapel streets, or caught in the limbo dream-world created by his continued use of opium. ‘Chasing the dragon’, as Goodwin, (and a few others), noted with his worry-tainted contempt of the practice. Devane knew the bursts of anger were born in concern, and he frequently ignored what another police inspector would have disciplined in his “junior”. That irony never ceased to bring a flicker of wry amusement to the younger man’s handsome features, and it did so now; Devane felt the telltale twitch of movement at his mouth--just beyond his conscious control.
             A hand touched his arm, tugged less than gently, and he turned to look into the lascivious smile of a local whore. He saw a multitude of things in her pale eyes as they looked at each other, among them was the ever-present fear. Her gaze dropped for an instant as she took stock of him, a potential customer. His expression remained passive, and when her head rose to meet his stare a second time, she was apologetic.
             “Beggin’ your pardon, sir,” she mumbled, and ran off before he could utter a word.
             Inspector Devane was not typical of her customary clientele, in any way. He was young, exceptionally handsome, and dressed like a gentleman. His eyes were dark, intelligent, and if anyone peered too closely, the shadows of perpetual pain and deeply-rooted loss would become visible. Few people were permitted that privilege, of course.
             Devane continued his interrupted walk, and eventually the worn sign of Mitre Street caught his attention. Again, the icy breath of past death caressed his insides. Just beyond the Street was Mitre Square and the ghost of Catharine Eddowes, Jack The Ripper’s fourth victim. He turned away, unwilling to go further in that direction. Abberline had been quick to see the value of his gift of near-clairvoyant insight, and had quickly given him the rare opportunity to be among his men on the streets. It had been a mixed blessing, indeed. He’d gained invaluable experience working with Abberline’s team, but the horrors he’d seen had never quite faded safely into vague oblivion.
             The Ripper had been haunting him anew recently. Devane’s dream-vision had once again been filled with gore and terror. Not entirely unique in his experience, but the horror of the attacks, and the violence in the residue that remained with him throughout the day, was vividly reminiscent of the Ripper murders that had occurred over a period of several months. He knew that it was not the work of Jack The Ripper, yet something was drawing him back into that macabre nightmare world that had cost him a piece of his soul, as well as his faltering marriage, and then threatened his very sanity in ways about which he tried to avoid thinking.
             His footsteps quickened slightly, and it took only a single heartbeat for him to recognize the reason for it; behind him, the sound of a carriage approaching, moving fast and with purpose. Pulling his thoughts inward, cloaking himself in cultivated control, Devane turned to face the nearing vehicle. Repressing his annoyance, he went to join Goodwin when the sergeant’s broad face appeared in the window and he beckoned.
             “Good-evening, sir,” Goodwin said quietly, once Devane was seated next to him and he’d told the driver to continue onward to their destination.
             “What is it this time, Sergeant?” Devane enquired, gazing outward, seeing nothing.
             Goodwin winced at the resignation in the younger man’s strong, quiet voice. He didn’t really know what to say to Devane a great deal of the time now. Goodwin had worked with Devane for a number of years, and they’d become friends. But, things had changed after the Ripper case. Not in overt ways, but the more subtle undercurrents had shifted into a murky grey area where he was no longer always certain of Devane’s dark genius. Fred Abberline had hinted it might happen, but Goodwin hadn’t believed it; he’d known Devane for such a long time, and his faith had been unshakable, until that terrible case. And, this new one was going to put more pressure on a personality that was fraught with edginess on the best of days.
             “Sergeant Goodwin?”
             Goodwin started visibly and tried to look away from the intensity of Devane’s expectant gaze. It was impossible. It always had been.
             “There’s been a murder,” he imparted cautiously. Devane released him by turning to look out the window again, drinking in the night and its secrets.
             “What of it?”
             “It was messy, Inspector. They’re already whispering about The Ripper being back at work. Though that makes little enough sense in this case, since the victim is a man, not a Whitechapel bang-tail.”
             Devane closed his eyes and leaned back in the safe confines of the jostling carriage. He was suddenly drifting into lethargy, tired beyond weariness. His head fell back and a hiss of breath escaped from between clenched teeth. Before he could hold back the images, blood spattered his mind’s eye and held him in the semi-consciousness of familiar dream-scapes. A scream, deafening yet soundless, split the silence inside his head. He turned, and a graceful, eerily beautiful arc of liquid fire sprayed upward, glistening drops of crimson life held suspended against the stark glow of gaslights. A sliver of silver glimmered, vanished, then returned again, covered in scarlet gloss. Then the screaming amplified and enveloped him for timeless seconds, until it slowly pulsed to a soft, steady heartbeat. Through the haze of red, a face tried to take form, and failed. Devane inwardly twisted away, eager to escape the marred beauty that pleaded with his tortured soul...

The Devane Files: Book One - OUT OF HELL


The Devane Files: Book Two - AN UNSPOKEN BETRAYAL


Tina Donahue said...

Wow - these books sound fascinating, Denyse. Can't wait to get my hands on them! :)

Denysé Bridger said...

Thanks so much, Tina. I don't always like my own work, but these I've always felt were among my best - and very overlooked. I'd love an excuse to write more of this series. :)

jean hart stewart said...

You're a powerful writer, girl. You don't need an excuse, just write some more of them.

Denysé Bridger said...

Thank you so much, Jean. I actually cried when I read your comment. I loved these books from the day I wrote them. :)