Initiated to Kill by Sharlene Almond

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Initiated cover final HIGH-RES edit-200

There’s a surprisingly large number of conspiracy theories involving the Freemasons. Everything from political assassinations to the creation of income tax has been attributed to this secretive group. One theory even sees them involved in the mystery of Jack the Ripper, one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers, and it’s this one that Sharlene Almond has taken inspiration from.

With action jumping between Whitechapel in 1888, London in 1996 and Seville in 2010, Initiated to Kill follows two men living over a century apart, whose only connection is that they have both been initiated into a secret organisation in order to each play their part in a sinister plan – a plan to wreak havoc on society. In both cases the men were chosen for their peculiarities; their misanthropic natures, their cruelty and their desire for revenge. But the qualities that allow them to be manipulated by those who initiated them may also turn out to be their downfall.

Both of these killing sprees are fictional, but one of them mirrors a series of murders that has since become the stuff of myth. Just about everyone knows something about Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders of 1888 – the details make for pretty gruesome reading. But Almond, with her eye for both history and criminology, uses the facts well in her story. The second set of murders occurs in Seville in 2010. Someone is kidnapping young women – all students from the University of Seville – and then leaving their hearts in packages at the police station addressed to the CID. Like the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper, these modern-day crimes show evidence of medical knowledge, as well as an ability to tease and confound the police investigating them. The Whitechapel murders are more of a subplot in the novel, occupying only about 20 per cent of the action, but their inclusion gives an extra layer of meaning to what’s happening in Spain.

It takes time for the Spanish detectives to connect the missing girls to the hearts that arrive on the desk in the station. All the women go missing on Friday nights. They’re all the type likely to go out on a Friday, go home with someone, and not be seen again for days. For men like Silvio Oliva, these women are partially to blame for their own demise. It is only when the first heart arrives and two detectives – the level-headed Rivera and the psychologically scarred Valero – start to see a pattern in the missing women that the case gains any attention. When young deaf woman Annabella Cordova appears in the station to report the disappearance of her flatmate Celestina, the detectives decide to try some unorthodox methods in order to stop the murders – including using Annabella’s heightened senses and lip-reading ability during interviews. As they dig deeper, they find there is more to the university and its staff than first meets the eye.

Jumping back and forth between 1888 and 2010, Initiated to Kill also finds itself delving into Annabella’s history in London in the 1990s, and into the backstory of one of the suspects in Seville. These multiple time periods, along with the switches from first to third person narratives make for a bumpy read, which may be compounded by the author’s style. The writing feels like a translation from Spanish, which gives the novel a feeling of authenticity when it’s done well, but occasionally this slips.

It’s a challenge to pull off a novel that transcends language, time and place convincingly, and for the most part Almond succeeds admirably, which is why this debut novel was recently picked up by an indie publisher, after being self-published in 2012. Initiated to Kill holds its own well, in amongst the ocean of theories and stories surrounding Jack the Ripper, standing up as a novel of true, if flawed, ambition.

Whisky Creek Press

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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