Robert Weverka – Murder By Decree
Posted by demonik on July 19, 2007
Robert Weverka – Murder By Decree (Corgi, 1979)
Only one man, the most illustrious investigator of all time, could hope to solve the most baffling series of crimes in British history – the Ripper murders. Only Sherlock Holmes could begin to unravel the sordid web of intrigue and secrecy surrounding those acts of unspeakable horror.
But even Holmes could not have anticipated the terrible revelations which threatened the very fabric of Victorian society …. and the life of the great sleuth himself ….
If we draw a discreet veil over what has to be the most boring cover in the history of novelisations, this is actually a most enjoyable, speedy read. Loosely based on Stephen Knight’s The Final Solution, Murder … scores over the A Study In Terror paperback by virtue of (a) a rather more ‘fact’-based approach (other than Holmes and Watson, most of the characters actually existed and the victims are referred to by name: Sir William Gull and John Netley become Sir Thomas Spivey and John Slade, however), and (b) its welcome lack of Ellery & the stooges.
Holmes is perplexed. Although this Ripper business is causing a major panic, Scotland Yard haven’t deigned to implore his assistance, and he’s had to wait for some shady, greasy-fingered oiks from the Vigilance Committee to make him feel wanted, which is hardly the same thing. The Ripper has just struck for the third time and the well-meaning bruisers want him to get started on the case immediately. Holmes assures them not to worry, it will be eight days until he’s due to kill again. Unfortunately, nobody told Jack as he’s off having his ghastly fun in Mitre Square, it being the night of the fabled “double event”. No wonder the great detective swore Watson to secrecy over that one for a century: Lestrade would’ve laughed his tits off.
Needless to say, there’s a reason why Sir Charles Warren doesn’t want Holmes prying into the sorry business, as the murders have been, if not officially sanctioned, then at least set underway by a chance remark from the Prime Minister who doesn’t want it to be known that Prince Albert Victor, second in line to the throne, has wed a Catholic and – worse – had a child by her. Out of a deranged interpretation of his duty to the Queen, one man has decided that he must eliminate the women who know of this matter – a gaggle of Whitechapel prostitutes. Together with a madman of similar twisted patriotism and an unhealthy obsession with Freemason rituals, they set about sweeping the slums for Mary Kelly, the girl who witnessed the happy occasion.
Although Holmes eventually unmasks the Ripper, this hardly goes down as his finest hour as he that unwittingly leads the murderers to Mary and we all know what happened to her. Consequently, he’s in no mood to back down to the Prime Minister and his cronies when they try try flexing their flabby muscles in the direction of his deerstalker and start giving it the big one..
This version of Holmes is very much on the side of the downtrodden, bristling with righteous indignation as he sticks it up the establishment who he rightly perceives as morally bankrupt, self-serving and barking mad. There never was any threat to Monarchy or Government, he rails, except in their own paranoid fantasies. Still, he’s roped into the cover-up, although at least he secures a promise that the Prince’s bastard will be left unharmed now Spivey is too nuts to be a menace.
As with the movie, Watson gets all the best lines (even if most of them are “what the deuce!”) and his character is by far the best drawn and easily the most endearing. He champions Holmes to the point of embarrassment, endures his colleague’s insufferable showboating with patience and dignity (he doesn’t even take the piss over the “double event” howler) and proves his courage over and over. Actually, if Weverka has achieved anything in this book, it is to capture something of James Mason’s lovable portrayal of the good doctor.