As readability tests go, tackling a novel in the confines of a one-man tent on a gusty night must be one of the more rigorous. It is a compliment to his skill as a writer, therefore, that Nabil Shaban's 2008 novel The Ripper Code was more than capable of holding my attention, despite the wind turning my tent's flysheet into a veritable wailing banshee.
With my attention firmly fixed upon his modern-day rendering of the 1888 Whitechapel Murders, Shaban's quick-fire prose rapidly drew me into a dysfunctional - but all too real - world of social and sexual prejudices which, incidentally, would not look out of place in Victorian Britain. The undercurrents of this dismal landscape propel the protagonist, Maxwell 'Max' Abberline, into an occult-soaked mystery that is unlikely to have a Hollywood ending.
Max is no lilywhite hero. Perceived as a harmless, if somewhat eccentric civil
servant with a penchant for numerology, Max's wheelchair-user status sees him categorised by some as one who dwells in the unlit corners of society; an ironic conclusion given his curb-crawling addiction. His struggle to overcome these misconceptions helps to define his character, and paints a picture of a man on the edge of the world, marooned from the everyday traffic of human affairs by the unthinking condescension and pitying of his so-called peers.
There is a glimmer of redemption in this melancholic state, however. To thwart a sickening killer, whose callous disregard for life wields an unrelenting brutality, Max becomes involved in a police investigation which pushes his skills of deduction to the very limit.
Shaban tempers the dark matter that pervades his tale with a lightness of touch which lends a humour, appropriately of the black variety, to