ROBERT BLOCH – The Night of the Ripper. Doubleday, hardcover, 1984. Tor, paperback, 1986.

   It just wouldn’t be Halloween without something from Robert Bloch, and this Jack-the-Ripper mystery fits the bill quite nicely: no great shakes as a novel, but fast and readable as always from Bloch.

   Mark Robinson, an American doctor studying in London, is the central character, but he shares the stage with Eva Sloane, a dilettante nurse and medical student, and Inspector Abberline, the plodding but canny man from Scotland Yard. Bloch does his usual smooth job of shifting from character to character to generate movement and suspense, and if none of them is terribly deep, they’re at last consistent and believable.

Bloch also does a sturdy job tracing the Ripper’s crimes with historical accuracy and ringing in all the usual suspects and bit-players, politicians, prostitutes and public figures. Which leads to my main carp with the thing: a surfeit of Guest Star walk-ons, as the characters share scenes with Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, Conan Doyle and even the Elephant Man, none of whom contribute materially to the plot.

   Ah yes, the plot. I spotted the character who would turn out to be the Ripper pretty quickly, but that’s because I know Bloch from endless reading since my teens. On an objective level he plays fair with the reader, but can’t avoid some of the conventions of the form — like the witness who offers to tell Robinson who the Ripper is if he’ll meet her in a few hours at….. And we all know who dies next, don’t we? And when Robinson and Eva agree to meet later so they can take their suspicions to Inspector Abberline, cliché dictates that something befall her in the meantime, now doesn’t it?

   Somehow though, these bits of literary laziness don’t spoil this undeniably fast-moving and vivid tale. Bloch seemed to take pleasure in writing it, and he passes it on to the reader in a form perfect for the season.