A Taste For Monsters
Matthew J. Kirby
Scholastic Press, September 2016
Numerous mysteries and novels have been written involving Jack The Ripper. A few have been written where Joseph Merrick (known as the Elephant Man) was featured. In this juvenile mystery, the two come together under the excellent crafting of Matthew J. Kirby. I read and cheered on (for a well deserved Edgar) his Icefall, so I was eager to see how he treated this markedly different setting.
London, 1888: Evelyn, a young orphan, has already experienced multiple tragedies when she seeks a position at the London Hospital. She lost her mother very early and then her father when speculation in commerce turned against him and he drank away both his wealth and his life. Left to survive on her own, she was dealt another cruel blow when she was poisoned by the phosphor in the match factory where she worked. Surgery saved her life, but took part of her face and jaw. Forced to survive amid taunts and jeers from passersby on the streets of London and needing to scrounge enough coins to pay for lodging each night in filthy flop houses, she’s desperate.
When she seeks an interview with the hospital matron, the woman’s initial impulse is to send her away, fearing her disfigurement will upset patients. However, Mr. Merrick has come to spend his remaining days in isolation at the hospital and it has been difficult to keep anyone on staff who is not completely unsettled by his appearance. Despite her misgivings, Evelyn soon realizes that he’s a kindred soul and she feels a sense of comfort and safety when taking care of him. She reads to him, as well as assisting him with the completion of a complex jigsaw puzzle. The more they converse, the more she warms to him, realizing there’s a lovely, caring soul underneath his disfigurement.
All is well until a mysterious killer calling himself “Leather Apron” begins murdering prostitutes in Whitechapel, the ghosts of the victims begin to appear each night at exactly the same time in Mr. Merrick’s quarters. Each visitation seems to sap his strength a bit more. Evelyn can also see them and the two realize these spirits have something unresolved in life that has locked them into their nightly visits. Realizing that she’s the one who must leave the safety of the hospital in order to learn what must be done to send each ghost on to eternal rest scares Evelyn silly. With the help of Charlie, a violinist who befriended Mr. Merrick, she does so, but not without several upsetting experiences.
How she deals with them, secures peace for the ghosts, overcomes betrayal and deals with “Leather Apron”, make for a dandy read. Both young teens and adults will very much enjoy the story, the plot twists and the very strong main characters. It’s a book well worth adding to any school or public library or buying as a gift for younger family members who love to read.
Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, November 2016.