Something wicked this way comes..

Yesterday I bought, and am nearly finished(it’s a real page-turner, you see!), a new and very enjoyable crime novel, The Walker, by a new Australian author, Jane R.Goodall. Set in London in 1971, with a prologue in 1967, it’s a very spooky, well-written and unsettling read about a series of hideous killings that appear to reproduce the patterns of Jack the Ripper. The story is told through several different points of view: that of Nell Adams, a traumatised young student who in 1967 found the murdered body of a woman, and came face to face with her killer; Briony Williams, a young Detective Inspector; briefly, Caroline Staines, a young reporter; and ‘the Walker’, a figure who combines the gruesomely sensual persona of a serial killer with the supernatural sense of something that embodies ancient evil, an evil that seems to emanate from the very stones of London itself.

The author has managed to create a seamless mix of police procedural and metaphysical battle, all set against the background of the transitional time of the early seventies, when the dark underside of the cheerful utopian swinging sixties–hard drugs, grotesque violence, a sense of a world spiralling out of control– had become all too evident, just as the dark underside of Victorian propriety and respectability was exposed in the ghastly crimes of Jack the Ripper.
There’s a very interesting interview with Jane Goodall in the latest issue of the Australian literary magazine, Heat (I don’t think it’s available online) in which William Collins, Charlotte Bronte, Edgar Allan Poe and Peter Ackroyd (the extraordinary biographer of many literary figures, and of London herself) are evoked as influences. William Peter Blatty, who wrote The Exorcist, is also quoted as an influence, as is Thomas Harris, author of The Silence of the Lambs. As is Hogarth, the gifted and disturbing caricaturist of another disturbing and disturbed age, slum-London, shadow-walker of 18th century dynamism, whose works are clearly an inspiration for the psychotic killer. And yet another influence, it seems to me, comes from the idea of the Doubleman, the Co-Walker, the Doppelganger, an idea common in many cultures (one of the most interesting, and oldest, descriptions of such an idea is to be found in 17th century pastror and writer Dr Robert Kirk’s famous round-up of Celtic beliefs on the supernatural, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies–which happens also to be the main inspiration behind one of the most extraordinary novels based around this theme, Christopher Koch’s The Doubleman).
In her interview, Goodall spoke about the creation of her villain: ‘A strong villain is the hardest figure to create, because villainy at that level is a form of genius. It’s about power and control. The life of a strong villain is too large for the world; it creates philosophical and moral crises, as well as the kind of material chaos detectives have to try and clean up. One step further into the supernatural, and you’re in the terrain of Stephen King. The Shining and The Green Mile both have a kind of visionary quality. There’s an imaginative truth about them that makes them totally compelling. ..’
But it’s not just on evil, radical evil of the Walker’s kind, that she’s good. She gives a sharp, well-obseved picture of pre-Thatcherite London, and has a good eye for the conventions, hypocrisies and also the unpredictabilities of human society and human interaction. And she explores the idea of this time being a time of transition; and the Walker, just as the Ripper was back in his time, as a figure who can only exist because of that transition. It’s an interesting mix, and though occasionally it over-reaches itself (and can be very gruesome, as you might expect), it is an accomplished and unusual read.
Like fellow Australian crime writer Barry Maitland, Jane Goodall has very successfully colonised London as her writing territory. I look forward to many more of her books.

This entry was posted in Literature. Bookmark the permalink.
Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
David Tiley
2024 years ago

mmm… Christmas list. You wanna make up a list of the books you wish would walk off the shelves in Oz this year? The gems?

Then I could link to it..

I can’t see that name without thinking that a primatologist is plagiarising Ray Bradbury.

2024 years ago

Good idea, David! Will cogitate and put up a list of things I’ve liked!