Isaac Crawley has just returned home from London and is obsessed with the Jekyll and Hyde play, which has opened at Macaulay’s Theater in Louisville, Kentucky. On the fourth night of the show, a body is found on the riverbank, butchered like Jack the Ripper’s first victim. The police set their sights on Isaac, who has recently developed an opium habit, a propensity for blackouts, and noticeable changes in behavior. Since Isaac was in London during the horrific killing spree, they think he may be the Ripper himself.
More bodies are found, eerily linked to the Ripper, and as evidence points toward Isaac, his former alienist, Dr. Blackwood, steps in, locking him away in the Lakeland Asylum in a desperate effort to keep him safe. What Dr. Blackwood discovers lurking inside Isaac’s mind needs to be destroyed to save him, but it also holds the key to finding the real killer, who is still out in the streets, imitating the Ripper.
Much has been written and theorized about Jack the Ripper. Who was he? Why did he kill at least five women? Why did he stop? While Markert’s The Strange Case of Isaac Crawley doesn’t focus specifically on Jack, the writer does use his narrative to present his answer to the third question. Markert cites RL Stevenson’s novella, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as inspiration (as shown by the book’s title), which was itself inspired by historical events.
The Strange Case of Isaac Crawley is, pardon the pun, a strange novel, and it took me a while to fully immerse myself in it. The descriptions of the mutilated bodies are gory in parts, but no more so than the descriptions of the wounds Jack inflicted on his victims. The emphasis of the novel is not the slasher aspect, but the psychological one.
I figured out Isaac’s situation early on, but there are multiple twists and revelations before the story ends. The final twist, found in the epilogue, left me saying, “Whoa” (much to the bewilderment of my dog, who was the only being within hearing distance), and wanting to read the whole thing again to pick up on that last clue.
I’ve read almost all of James Markert’s novels (the exception is his first) and enjoyed each one. This newest title, however, is very different in that leans more towards horror than supernatural. In other words, if you enjoyed the likes of All Things Bright and Strange and Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel, there’s no guarantee that you’ll enjoy Isaac Crawley. But, if you’re okay with multiple murders, the macabre, and adult subjects, I urge you to give it ago. Besides, at the time of writing this review, the electronic version is available for 99 cents… which is how I ended up with my copy.
Publisher: Holland Brown
Publication Date: 26 October 2021
James Markert lives with his wife and two children in Louisville, Kentucky. He has a history degree from the University of Louisville and won an IPPY Award for The Requiem Rose, which was later published as A White Wind Blew, a story of redemption in a 1929 tuberculosis sanatorium, where a faith-tested doctor uses music therapy to heal the patients. James is also a USPTA tennis pro, and has coached dozens of kids who’ve gone on to play college tennis in top conferences like the BIG 10, the Big East, and the ACC.