The Candle Man comes from a darker place in Alex Scarrow's writing genius. While the superb TimeRiders (Book 1) series is aimed at teens - though it should be snapped up by everyone - The Candle Man is most definitely adults only. We're in Jack the Ripper country here. Time to hide behind the sofa.
You might be aware that one hundred years ago a certain ship sailed proud across the Atlantic before being sunk by an iceberg. You need have no fear that The Candle Man is a Titanic novel but it does begin with a brief prologue in which a man makes a confession aboard the vessel as it sinks. He is well aware that there's no space in a lifeboat for him but he does not want the truth to drown with him. And so, as the ship tilts, the furniture slides and the plates smash, he reveals all to a young lady who may just be fortunate enough to be rescued.
The majority of the novel is set in London during the 1880s. A man has been tasked with the murder of a French woman and her baby. Unable to stomach the slaughter of an innocent babe he brings along two of Whitechapel's whores to do the job for him while he sees to the mother. But around her neck is a locket. In it is a photograph which reveals a secret that would bring the government of England to its knees in the muck. By keeping this locket and demanding more money for its return, the murderer makes himself a target. The powers that be, and they are indeed powerful, feel there is only one option open to them. A man is called over from America. He will rid them of this pest and his whores. He is the Candle Man.
It isn't long before matters are out of hand. The locket takes on a life of its own, moving from one person to another, with the Candle Man on its trail. Unfortunately for him, as soon as he discovers the locket's existence, he realises that he too must be removed. And so we have the parallel story of the novel - the man brought into a London hospital with a stab wound but no memory. Only one person cares for him - a young woman Mary Kelly who claims she is his fiancee even though he has no recall of her.
The Candle Man is an extremely atmospheric and fast read. The government forces, the Candle Man and Mary Kelly all have a voice, each living in the back alleys or refined houses of late Victorian London. Some are deeply stirring while others chill the heart to the core. But above and beyond the stories surrounding the meaning of the locket, the identity of the man with no memory, is the destruction done to the women in Whitechapel. These famous Jack the Ripper murders are here given a new purpose and context. That removes nothing of their appalling horror. We are also given glimpses of other atrocities a continent away. The creation of a monster is the subject here.
This novel is steeped in the times. It's pacey and it's brutal while also mesmerising with the detail of history. It did intrude on my dreams. I think that is a worthy recommendation.
A novel which attempts to combine a conspiracy theory based around the Jack the Ripper murders and Titanic sounded simply too good to pass up. Actually, the Titanic storyline is a bit of a stretch (and those buying the book out of interest about anything to do with Titanic will be disappointed), but overall this is a very good and well written mystery.
The story combines two main storylines to begin with. Firstly, Mary Kelly discovers a man bleeding on the street and robs his bag. Later, afraid that he is not dead and will remember her, she seeks him out. The second main thread concerns the murder of the young mistress and baby of a very well known person. Although they are murdered, a locket containing a photo of the man, woman and baby still exists and the Steering Committee, a group of influential men, are involved in making sure all evidence of indiscretion is gone.
Basically, the author has taken the Whitechapel murders of 1888 and weaved an entirely different storyline around them. To Ripperologists this may seem unacceptable, but it IS fiction and, as long as the storyline makes sense and you care about the characters, then the novel works - and it does. This is a very exciting read, leaving you with empathy for even the vicious Candle Man, as well as for Mary Kelly, who is more than a little out of her depth in the deception she is attempting to pull off, the victims themselves and even for the members of the Steering Committee, who feel little sympathy for the man they are trying to protect. Overall, a really good read and I will certainly search out more by this author.
There are a number of authors whose new books I automatically buy. Alex Scarrow is unique in this list because the others tend to be in a certain genre. Mr Scarrow is different because his fiction varies but the quality is very consistent. His Timeriders series is his main output and that is generally aimed at Young Adults, but his adult fiction is always well researched, always thoughtful and always clever.
The Candle Man starts off on the Titanic but in reality is a Jack the Ripper story as the events of 24 years before the Titanic sinking are given a new perspective. The author weaves a lot of the theories and half-truths of the Ripper story together with the facts and victims to present us with a tale of a man with a dark and troubled soul and the battle between evil and redemption. It is, by nature, a bloody and violent story but there is also an element of tenderness that acts as a core to the story.
A very authentic, gritty and unpleasant London is the scenario for a very entertaining twist on the Ripper story. Once again Mr Scarrow pulls out the unexpected but continues his run of winning books.
I've read a couple of this author's books previously, but this is quite different to such works as Afterlight or Last Light. Instead, this is a `Victorian thriller'. In 1912, as the Titanic starts to sink, a steward brings a young woman in a wheelchair to the reading room, for Mr Larkin to keep company. In the circumstances of the moment, they feel an affinity, and Mr Larkin tells her a story that took place in 1888 - in London, the year of the murders of Jack the Ripper. The action of the story is largely that which occurred in 1888 - the reasons for the people who were killed, and the reasons why the killings took place. A story of twists and turns, unfortunate circumstances, death, murder and the brutality of lower class life in Victorian England, this is a great whodunnit and `whydunnit'. Very different from other books that I have read by the author, but terribly well written nonetheless, and an exceedingly interesting story, with nicely timed surprises throughout. Definitely recommended.
on 3 October 2012
The Candle Man is a very clever take on the Ripper story and shows how good Alex is at 'adult aimed' novels, everyone of them has been diverse and and truly beleiveable.
Working in the print trade I feel duty bound to purchase actual printed matter, i.e. paperbacks & hardbacks but I was so desperate to read this I couldn't wait for it to come to print so it became my 1st e-book purchase.
I know Alex has had 'issues' with the publishers of his 'adult aimed' novels and only hope he doesn't give up on this genre to concentrate on his successful Time Riders series.
A Thousand Suns, Last Light, October Skies, Afterlight & The Candle Man have been 5 of the best novels I've ever read.
Alex, please don't give up on your 'adult' novels.
on 28 November 2013
I had a real problem with this book. Having read other readers observations, I was sceptical whether I would like it, but I thought it was excellent. I have not enjoyed a book so much for quite a while. The short chapters were no problem, in fact they were an advantage as they moved the story along .The introduction of The Titanic was an aside, but Warrington's reasons for being there and why he was going added to the total story. I think any information about the story would give the plot away, suffice to say that it is a rigging of Jack The Ripper legend, and all the furore that caused in London in the 1880's.
Excellent read, sad that I have finished it.
on 21 May 2013
Maybe not his best or most original story but still a "cracking good read". Somehow it all seemed very familiar, Jack the Ripper, mysterious Victorians, seedy villains and seedier coppers plus the Titantic thrown in for good measure. Shouldn't have worked but
honestly I couldn't put it down, Alex Scarrow is just so good at storytelling. Excellent....highly recommended.
on 14 July 2013
This is the first Alex Scarrow book I've read so I had no preconceptions about whether I'd like the style, tone or plot development. I was really pleasantly surprised. I got into it immediately and every time I picked it up it grabbed my attention! Not only were the chapters punchy enough for the plot to develop quickly, but the use of several characters' viewpoints also kept me interested and wondering what was next. Totally unlike Dan Brown novels where it tends to be only one viewpoint and a new chapter for every time they sneeze!
I think it's a very brave thing to take such a notorious historical event and write a successful and unique version of your own. Alex Scarrow definitely pulls it off. I knew what was recorded as happening to Mary Kelly but I was totally unsure what would happen to her in this book, which kept me guessing.
My only criticism would be the use of the Titanic as a setting. I know it was used to pique the reader's interest and to make some sort of link between this and Jack the Ripper but I wasn't sure it really worked. There was no real link between the two and I thought it would been better to create a fictional situation to that better complimented the events that were the core focus of the novel. However, I loved the description of events on the Titanic and I would love to read a novel wholly constructed around that event. He is a writer who's description and language really brings a situation to life for me, and I could vividly smell, hear and see the settings he wrote about.
on 18 May 2015
I found The Candle Man superbly riveting, a wonderfully dark journey through a sordid Whitechapel of 1888,
embroiled in the evil doings of Jack The Ripper.
It is a nicely constructed story, enhancing the Ripper legend with a whole new slant on who he was.
But there are charming moments too, as Mary Kelly, a typical Whitechapel whore, finds that one moment
where luck is on her side at last, and she is determined to make the most of it.
The dark underbelly of a grimy Whitechapel screams out from these delightful pages.
A great little read.
on 24 June 2012
When I first saw this in the book store I recognised the man on the cover as none other than Montague John Druitt - a famous suspect in the Ripper case. I had to take a second glance because I am one of very few in my friendship group who gives a damn about Jack the Ripper. When I saw that the book was set on the Titanic I almost had a stroke. Right up my street!
The story however, is mainly set in 1888, so those hoping for a story set on the Titanic will probably phase out of this one. The prologue and the epilogue are the only two chapters set on the Maiden Voyage itself, which could be one of the only changes I would have made. It would have been fantastic if the author chose to dip back in and out of the 1912 time line, even just to show the chaos of the unravelling story, to have a sort of ticking time-bomb effect of the secrets of 1888 being told. I found the character of Miss Hammond, from the opening sequence quite a scene stealer - and to have her not return until the final pages was a shame.
The book slips into 1888 and its real strength is the dual story lines running concurrently - one dealing with Bill Tolly (a fantastically vicious character) and Annie and Polly clearing up someone else's mess, linking to a Royal conspiracy of epic proportions. The other deals with the younger Mary Kelly, who stumbles on a man in serious need of medical attention on the streets of London, and before we know it she's neck deep in trouble herself. I should say, London is beautifully painted by Scarrow.
I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but when we find out who 'Jack' really is, the story of Mary and John becomes all the more sad. I found it particularly emotive, very touching, to watch someone fight to be a better man. Not so good men, however, are The Steering Club - the elite group who employ the Candle Man to cover up the mistakes of one man. Every chapter with these gents is quite brilliant, this shadowy cabinet of secretive blokes, who are clearly very used to having things their own way. The letter from the American Brother detailing the prior 'work' of the Candle Man is rather excellent, even if it is just one chapter.
I will say, as rather a fanatic of the Ripper world, I was waiting to see how certain facts and tidbits would play out - and I think that Polly, Annie, Liz and Cath not being big players really works - for once! They usually dominate Ripper stories, and to have them as bit players was quite refreshing. Saying that, everyone plays a part, and this book really does have an ensemble cast of characters. The only things, like I said before, that I would change, is the lack of Titanic-ness? A few chapters here and there would have made the story much more powerful - and therefore, without these few chapters here and there, the ending for me, lost a little punch, because by the time we get there we don't really care for the two speakers, we care about the ones who are already dead. In a sense, it's quite a poignant end, a bittersweet end - which sees a great change in two of our main characters.
Still, I confess a curiosity as to why Druitt is on the front cover, when he makes no appearance in the novel. Just wondered? If you are a lover of all things Jack then please buy this book - for a refreshing take, if anything else!