It’s 1852, and the ranks of the London poor have doubled. In the swollen shadow of the great St. Giles Rookery, fallen women attract perfumed dandies of the West End in a vicious circle of venality, vanity and vice.
Edmund Whitty, correspondent for The Falcon, the city’s second-best sensational tabloid, writes whatever will stimulate the reader, delay his (increasingly physical) creditors, and supply him with the alcohol and opiates required to see him through the day. His most recent triumph was to supply a name to the fiend in human form who has murdered God knows how many prostitutes with a white silk scarf: Chokee Bill. To the correspondent’s satisfaction, Chokee Bill incited a garrotting panic that paralyzed the business of London -- until the arrest of one William Ryan. Normality has returned. The hangman, Mr. Calcraft, as dusty and dreary as death itself, awaits.
Broke again and in search of crisp copy, Whitty makes a shocking but not altogether surprising discovery: the white-scarf slayings have continued. When he endeavours to find the real Chokee Bill, he is greeted with emphatic hostility, both offcial and unoffcial.
This Dickensian tale offers galvanizing suspense and an evocative and witty vision of life in Victorian London -- in which the hallmark of a gentleman is perfection without, putrefaction within, and the hallmark of a lady is to have snared a gentleman.
From the Paperback edition.