The foggy streets of London’s Whitechapel district have become a nocturnal hunting ground for Jack the Ripper, and no woman is safe. Flower girl Constance Piper is not immune to dread, but she is more preoccupied with her own strange experiences of late.
Clairvoyants seem to be everywhere these days. Constance’s mother has found comfort in contacting her late father in a séance. But are such powers real? And could Constance really be possessed of second sight? Following the latest grisly discovery, Constance is contacted by a high-born lady of means who fears the victim may be her missing sister. She implores Constance to use her clairvoyance to help solve the crime, which the press is calling “the Whitechapel Mystery,” attributing the murder to the Ripper.
As Constance becomes embroiled in intrigue far more sinister than she could have imagined, assistance comes in a startling manner that profoundly challenges her assumptions about the nature of reality. She’ll need all the help she can get—because there may be more than one depraved killer out there . . .
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The Sixth Victim
By TESSA HARRIS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Tessa Harris
All rights reserved.
London, Saturday, September 8, 1888
There's blood in the air. Again. They've got the scent of it in their nostrils and they're following it, like wolves honing in for the kill. Only the killing's already done. It's the third in a month here, in Whitechapel, and the second in little more than a week and everyone's in a panic. We're heading toward the scene, to Hanbury Street. There's a big swell of us and it's growing every minute as news seeps out. Shopkeepers gawp, arms crossed, on their steps. Barrow boys are spreading the word. Commercial Street's always busy at this time of the morning, but now the world and his wife seem to be funneling along the rows of old weavers' houses in Fournier Street.
Near me, a big man shouts over my head to a friend on the opposite side of the road, cupping his hands round his mouth. "By the cat meat shop!" he yells over the traffic's din. Past the tight-packed rows of dwellings I go, through Princelet Street, until I reach the place. Sure enough, a big cluster has gathered outside Mrs. Hardiman's Cat Meat Shop. More and more people are pressing around me now, slavering and baying. They're craning their necks to see. Some men are even hoisting their little ones on their shoulders to get a look. There are a few newspaper hacks here, too, dressed better than the rest of us, all trying to snuffle up the juicy details.
In the crowd, I spot people I know. There's Widow Gipps and her creepy half-wit son, Abel. I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him. And Bert Quinn, the knife grinder, skin like a roasted chestnut — he's here, too. And Mrs. Puddiphatt. She lives on our street. Where there's trouble, there's Mrs. Puddiphatt. Sniffs it out, she does, with her big nose. There's Jews, too. Plenty of Jews. They're selling jellied eels from a barrow like it's a carnival, not a killing we've all come to see. But I'm looking for Flo, my big sister. I lost her somewhere down Wilkes Street. I bet I know where she's gone. She's friends with Sally Richardson, whose ma has a lodging house that backs onto Brown's Lane. She'll blag a favor and hope to get a good view of the backyard where they say it happened. Them that lives here are charging sixpence a pop, just for a gander. You can't blame the poor beggars, but you won't catch Flo parting with her money when she can get a good view for free.
Truth is, I don't want to see it. The body, I mean. If it's anything like the last one, I know I'll want to retch. I read about Polly Nichols in the papers, see. What did the Star say? She was "'completely disemboweled, with her head nearly gashed from her body.'" What sort of maniac could do such a thing? I ask you. And now this one.
A shout down our street woke us all up this morning, Flo and me and Ma. Dawn it was. Barely light. Nippy too. Flo stuck her head out the window. A moment later, she's back.
"There's been another!" she tells me, eyes wide as saucers. So she drags me out of my bed, all bleary, and says we're going to see what's what. That's how it is around here. We look out for each other. Everyone knows everyone's business in these parts, so when one of your neighbors is murdered, then it's your business, too. And this, this madman — well, he seems not to care who he picks on as long as they're on the streets.
Maisie Martin was in the Frying Pan on Brick Lane the other night. Flo told me that her friend had been sleeping with her babes not five yards away from where the fiend did his work on poor Polly. She'd heard a scream, then thuds, like someone was hitting her front door. But she froze. She didn't even dare to look out the window; she was that scared for her little 'uns. And, well, she might've been. They found Poll a few paces away, her throat slit and her guts ripped from her body like tripe on a butcher's block.
Now there's four women dead since April and the last two've been filleted not three streets away from us. When that happens, then you sits up and takes notice, don't ya? No one's been done for them, so he's still on the prowl. There are suspects, of course. They say a Jew did both of the latest ones. Or that it's the Fenians, them Irish blokes. After Polly, Old Bill started asking us all questions. Did we see anyone acting funny? Did we know them that was done for? But no one's behind bars, waiting for the hangman. And I don't mind telling you, that no woman round Whitechapel feels safe.
Anyway, Hanbury Street and Brick Lane is crawling with coppers. There's a ring of dark blue round Number 29. They're telling people to keep back. One or two of the rossers are even waving truncheons about, showing they mean business. There's an ambulance, too. The horses don't like the crowd. They're getting restless.
Rumors are racing round like fleas on a dog's back.
"It's Dark Annie," I hear someone growl.
"So they say."
It's no one I know. I'm feeling relieved when I hear someone yell my name. "Con!" I switch round. "Con!" It's Flo, a few feet away from me, standing in a doorway. She beckons me to come quick. I break free from the huddle around me.
"Did you see anything?" I ask, scuttling across the street.
She shakes her head. "All I sees was a pair of laced-up boots and red-and-white–striped stockings. Sticking out of a piece of old sack, they was. Then they came to take her off." She jerks her head over to the waiting ambulance. Her voice is flat, like she's missed the star act at a variety show. Then, as if she's trying to make up for her own disappointment, she adds with a cheery shrug: "I 'eard 'er innards 'ave been ripped out, too."
I cringe at the thought. "You reckon it's Leather Apron again?" I ask, but before she can answer, a roar goes up. I wheel round to see the crowd craning and pointing. Old Bill's telling everyone to move back. They're sliding the body on a stretcher into the ambulance to carry it off. We watch as they shut the doors and slowly the cart pulls off down the street. It takes a while. There's idiots who cling onto it. Lads mainly. But a few sharp blows with a copper's truncheon soon sort out that problem and off the ambulance goes to the mortuary.
"Come on," says Flo, taking my arm. "We've seen all we can, for now."
I'm glad she's not going to try and sneak another peek of the yard. I've had quite enough excitement for one day.
She has not seen me. I wanted to reach out and touch her from here, in the cold shadows, but I did not. Not yet. I've been away, you see. Not for long. Five weeks and three days, to be precise. But much has changed since I left. The district is in the grip of a new terror. The horrors that I knew were different in nature, but daily: the starveling in the gutter, the homeless old man dying of cold, the young widow poisoning herself to death on gin. But, unlike poverty, this new horror is not slow and insidious. It's swift and brutal. It's barbarous and depraved. It's murder of the most vile and visceral kind. And, what's more, it is happening on the streets I know so well. It's happening in Whitechapel.
The rumors among the crowd are true. Annie Chapman — or Dark Annie as she was known because of her hair color — is the latest victim. I knew her in life. She was a harmless soul. She used to scrape by doing crochet and making artificial flowers. But when she didn't have enough money to feed herself, she did what most other women in her position had to do, she took to the streets. And, like most women in her position, she also took to the bottle so that the next day she might not remember the sunless alley or the stairwell, nor the grunting and the thrusting and the insults that so often came her way.
Yes, I knew Annie Chapman and I knew she was not well. I could tell by the pallor of her skin and the cough that she so often stifled with the back of her hand that she was suffering from a serious malaise. A few weeks before she was murdered, she came into St. Jude's. She just sat in a pew at the back and took in the beauty of the place and then she bowed her head. It was hard to tell if it was in prayer or because she felt unwell. Either way, she found a sanctuary in the church. I hope she took away with her a little of the tranquility that she seems to have enjoyed that day. I wish I could have shared that peace with her, too. But it was not to be and the early hours of September 8 were to be her last on earth.
And I witnessed them.
I was in Hanbury Street as dawn was breaking. A stiff wind helped chase away the dark clouds, but still poor Annie had not had a wink of sleep. Turned out of her lodging house because she did not have enough money to pay, she'd roamed the streets all night, touting for business. None had come her way, so far. Barely able to stand because of the giddiness she felt, she'd lurched from one corner to the next. Her poor hands were numb and the nausea was rising in her throat. Little wonder she'd had not a single customer — until then.
From out of the shadows, he appeared and approached her. Of course, she did not know him. To her, he was just another lusty man whose urges needed satisfying. But I knew. I saw her nod in agreement at his words and I saw her being led through a doorway down a long passage. I followed with dread in my heart. I was powerless to help as I saw her walk down the steps into the yard beyond. I watched as she bunched up her skirts and leaned against the fence, splaying her legs in readiness. It was then that he loomed over her and then that I think poor Annie knew something terrible was about to happen. I heard her call, "No!" But it was too late. His hand was already pressed against her mouth. She flailed her arms and scratched at his hands as they tightened round her throat. She must have felt the cold steel on her neck then, because soon the warm syrup of her own blood was coursing through her fingers. I pray she fell insensible immediately. I pray that she was spared any knowledge of what he did next when he lifted her skirts and ripped her with his knife.
After that, I only stayed long enough to see a man open the back door of his home and stumble across the body in his backyard. Wild-eyed, he turned, shambled down the passage, then staggered out onto the street to summon help. And I? I had seen enough, too. But the questions that swirled around in my head reared up once more, just as they did after Martha Tabram and Polly Nichols. Could I have done more to stop this? Should I have done more to stop this? Sometimes I wonder if my own weakness has betrayed my sex, my own cowardice condemned these women? The answer to these questions is that, despite all that has happened to me, I am still powerless to change the minds of evil men. I can only guide those who are willing to listen and through them hope to exert an influence for the good.
The first policeman had been summoned as I took one more look at poor Annie Chapman, her blood still pooling on the ground. There was no more I could do.CHAPTER 2
Friday, September 14, 1888
"Roses is red. Violets is blue. Three whores is dead. And soon you'll be, too."
They're leering at me, in their ragged clothes, with snotty noses and grins on their dirty faces. None of the draggle-haired nippers can be more than twelve, but I'm scared as hell. I know I shouldn't be, but their stupid rhyme sends me all ashiver.
"Get away!" I growl through clenched teeth.
"Three whores is dead, and soon you'll be, too," they repeat.
"Bugger off!" I lunge at them and shout so loud I startle a passing gent. His monocle pops out of his eye socket in surprise. Anyway, my bawling does the trick. The mangy urchins turn and scuttle off like the sewer rats they are.
This may be swanky Piccadilly, where the ladies and gents dress up to the nines, and it could be a million miles away from Whitechapel, but still my heart's beating twenty to the dozen and my mouth's dry as sandpaper. Bold as brass they were, all cocky and brave. And they can be, 'cos they're not the ones he's after. He's after girls and women who work on the streets. The ones who are out at night, drinking their gin by the gill, so they don't feel the pain as much; so they don't have to think on what they've become.
You've got to pity them. I do, at any rate. Miss Tindall's taught me that. Most of them were once wives or mothers and fate's dealt them a cruel hand. They've all got their hard-luck stories to tell; how their masters had their way with them and landed them with a bun in the oven — I mean, with child — or how they lost their husbands or were beaten by them and forced to leave their homes. Men, eh? Can't live with them, can't live without 'em.
I don't go with 'em, myself. My ma says we're not that desperate ... yet. I can tell you there are plenty of poor souls that do round here. Amelia Palmer, Mary Kelly, Pearly Poll. I know 'em all. Salt of the earth, by and large, they are. Granted, some of them are out to fleece their gents for an extra bob or two, but then I can talk. That's what we do, see. Well, when I says "we," I mean Flo, really. I don't like helping her out, only I do, 'cos thieving's not as bad as selling your body. But I'm still out at night, earning a living, of sorts. That's why I'm outside this theater tonight with my basket of posies.
In March and April, I sell oranges. They're the best. You don't throw them away like you have to with the blooms sometimes. This late in the year, it gets harder. There's not much left. I managed to buy the last of the lavender today and tied some up in bunches. The ladies like them, they do, to sweeten their cupboards and chests. Moss roses too. Make them up nice myself, I do. I get the rush to tie them for nothing; then I put their own leaves round them. The paper for a dozen costs a penny, sometimes only a ha'penny, if Big Alf's feeling kind. He's a gentle giant, he is. Used to work on the railways till his accident, but he'll do me a deal if I flash my pearly whites. And rosebuds. They always go down well with sweethearts — and when they come to buy from me, Flo slips her hand in their pockets, and relieves them of a few pennies, or of their watches or anything else we can sell. Once or twice, she's done it too brown and been rumbled. The coppers have gone after her, and almost nabbed her, but somehow she's always managed to dodge them at the end of the day. She's slipped into a front room or a shop doorway and just disappeared.
Me? I don't like that sort of thing. I'm keeping my head down right now. But 'cos — sorry, I should say because; I know my letters, Mr. Bartleby — he's Ma's beau — he buys a penny dreadful of an evening and we all sit round and I read out the latest news from the Sun or the Star.I'm the only one in my family who reads proper, you see. My old man, God rest his soul, he taught me how when I was no more than seven. I'd sit on his knee and he'd make the sounds of the letters and point to the page. By nine, I was reading to him; by twelve, I was off with the Pickwick Papers. I used to have a good giggle at that Mr. Pickwick, I did. Miss Tindall, at the church mission, loaned me her books each week: Pilgrim's Progress and Gulliver's Travels. I didn't care for them too much. The words were too fancy, but then she gave me a dictionary and taught me how to look up what I didn't understand. Then it was like someone switched on one of them big electric lights in the theater and everything became crystal clear. Soon I found books about girls, Clarissa and Vanity Fair. Becky Sharp — now, there was a gal who knew her mind. Miss Tindall said that although I oughtn't to praise her behavior, it was good for a woman to have — what was the big word she used? — espir ... aspiration. Yes, that's it. She told me I've been given a great gift and that I'd "set foot on the path to betterment." She said there's some that's happy to stay in the gutter, but there's a few, like me, who's looking up at the stars. So I started to help out at Sunday school, teaching the youngsters their letters, and, in return, Miss Tindall, well, she's been helping me to be more of a lady. You can always tell a lady, Miss Tindall says, and not just by her clothes. It's the way she walks and holds herself and the way she talks, too. So Miss Tindall started to teach me to talk proper. Or should it be properly? There are all sorts of rules about how you ought to speak if you've any hope of being a lady, so I try and follow them. Well, some of the time.
Excerpted from The Sixth Victim by TESSA HARRIS. Copyright © 2017 Tessa Harris. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A neat twist on the Ripper mystery. Well written. First time reading this author, would definitely check out her other books.
** spoiler alert ** Set in London during the days of the Jack the Ripper frenzy, this book was both entertaining and creepy. The murders of Jack the Ripper, while important to the story, are mostly in the background. The main story is told of two characters. One is Constance who thinks she may be clairvoyant as she keeps dreaming things and seeing things while in a desperate attempt to find her friend, Emily Tindall. Emily is the second major character who has become Constance's friend. She has been trying to educate her in all things regarding being a lady. In the meantime, Constance comes to be introduced to a lady of means who is looking for her sister and inquires about Constance's help in her journey. Suddenly Emily disappears and Constance is on the hunt to find her friend. This leads to the start of Constance's dreams and sets her on a path of regarding a sixth victim who has been found murdered. This murder is much different than the one's left behind by Jack the Ripper. However, is he the culprit and two women are missing? Could the body be one of those people that Constance is looking for? A creepy, suspenseful and tragic read that held my interest way into the night. Huge thanks to Kensington Books and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley to read and review with an honest, unbiased opinion.
the sixth victim is a paranormal historical mystery set during the jack the ripper murders in victorian england. harper has clearly done a lot of research in order to bring this particular moment in british history to life. the story is told from the point of view of constance piper, a flower girl in whitechapel. and miss emily tinsdale, a mysterious missionary whose whereabouts aren't made crystal clear at the beginning of the novel. eventually, you figure out that something not quite worldly is happening, because the way emily has access to certain moments and how she responds to them make it clear that she might be a supernatural being. the thing is, i never felt the urgency in this story. there is a lot of historical detail and we see things from both character's perspectives, but it's not quite clear why these moments are being shared. yes, the plot and the scenes we witness are brought together by the end. but even with the threat of the ripper hanging over the character's heads i just never felt that concerned about that. and this felt wrong. i should care more, but as it is, i don't have much interest in learning more about constance. and don't even get me started on emily. this wasn't for me. in the end, it isn't my cup of tea. **the sixth victim will publish on may 30, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/kensington books (kensington) in exchange for my honest review.
I was a First Read Winner of this book and I really enjoyed it, though it started a little slow for me, once it got going it held my attention until the last page. The story was told through the eyes of the two main characters, Constance and Emily, and slowly the mystery revealed itself. I found the characters and the time period in which it took place very interesting and I can't wait to see what the future will hold in store for them. This was my first book by Tessa Harris but it certainly won't be my last, very entertaining read, and one I will be happy to reread in the future.
Thieves perpetuated from poverty and the hopelessness to survive! Constance and her sister Flo spend their day selling flowers to patrons doomed to have their pockets picked. Emily a teacher strives to make reality brighter for the unfortunate in the 1880's of London. Narration bounces between Constance and Emily and was quite confusing until the rhythm was obtained by this reader. The terror of Jack-the-Ripper plays a primary part in this story combined with the question of missing persons. Many characters to keep track of that intertwine in the shadows of Tessa Harris' story. Entertaining read with a sprinkling of the paranormal involved. Dark, violent, sad and gruesome events are depicted. "A copy of this book was provided to me by Kensington Books via Netgalley with no requirements for a review. I voluntarily read and my comments here are my honest opinion."