Daily Archives: June 24, 2021

Review ~ The Hypno-Ripper

This book was provided to me by the editor in exchange for an honest review.

The Hypno-Ripper: Or, Jack the Hypnotically Controlled Ripper; Containing Two Victorian Era Tales Dealing with Jack the Ripper and Hypnotism, edited by Donald K. Hartman

This is the second anthology in a series looking at the use of hypnotism as a fiction device in Victorian/Edwardian fiction. I reviewed the first volume, Death by Suggestion, back in 2019. (Which, yes, seems like a decade ago…)

As the extended title says, The Hypno-Ripper includes two tales, one on the longer end for a novella, the other on the longer side for a short story: The Whitechapel Mystery by Dr. N. T. Oliver and The Whitechapel Horror by “Charles Kowlder.”

Most of the stories in Hartman’s first anthology were mystery/crime stories in which hypnosis was often used to control someone into committing a horrible act, rather than as an information gathering device (as I would have expected). The Whitechapel Mystery (and Horror) are no different.

The protagonist of Mystery, an American detective investigating a bank robbery in New York, falls under the influence of nefarious Dr. Westinghouse. He follows Westinghouse back to London and they (maybe together, maybe only under Westinghouse’s influence) perpetrate the Jack the Ripper murders. That the tale starts in New York and involves an American is interesting; this might be because the author is American. The last fourth of book, in fact, is a biography of Dr. N. T. Oliver, or as he was more commonly known, Edward Oliver Tilburn. Tilburn is quite a character and his life as a con man is well worth the time. Oliver/Tilburn’s writing starts a little dry. The bank robbery stuff goes on a little long. In the style of news coverage of the time, the telling of the Ripper’s crimes gets pretty lurid.

The premise of The Whitechapel Horror is nearly the same. This time our protagonist is Charles Kowlder, an American who goes to London and, while there, has a mental breakdown. Kowlder self-hypnotizes into being a maybe partial/maybe full participant in the Ripper murders. This story is much shorter; it made the rounds of newspaper syndication under the guise of an unknown author. Hartman conjectures that Tilburn might also be the author of this piece as well. It would not be beyond Tilburn to self-plagiarize and publish this anonymously. I think it’s just as likely that, in the wild-and-wahoo world of 19th century copyright law, another writer could have adapted the longer work and pawned it off on newspapers wanting a sensational tale.

In writing quality, I wouldn’t say that either of these stories is particularly outstanding for the era. They are worthwhile for their subject matter, both as tales of hypnotism and as Jack the Ripper fiction that is contemporaneous to the events. If you’re a fan of Victoriana, do check it out.