New York Times bestselling author Stephen Hunter sets the stage for a different kind of killer in I, Ripper.
Despite all of the “American sniper” obsession which has been the core of my career, there's always been a strain of Anglophilia in my books, of which I, Ripper is the ultimate and final expression.
For more than 20 years, I've made a pretty good living chronicling the adventures of an American alpha family in the arroyos, back canyons, scrub hilltops, and dry gulch alleys of a place called gun country where it was always high noon, and whichever Swagger was in play found himself outnumbered and outgunned, but never out fought.
I have neither complaints nor regrets. But at the same time, there was another man inside, squirming to get out. I was never 100 percent gunman. A certain part of me, long suppressed in the years of the Swagger odyssey was of a different sort. Where the Swaggers were stoic, this man talked too much, in a tone of high irony, and found it all amusing. His mots were not only bon but stinging. His mind naturally offered riposte, repartee, quips and puns. He was as English as I am—and any Swagger has been—American.
I’ve finally given him center stage in I, Ripper, set in high empire times, 1888, London, and specifically its seedy fleshpot called Whitechapel. This phantasmagoria of lust, crime, want, deceit and odd nobility I fill with English voices, manners and madnesses—Jack's among them. I'm crazy about this stuff. I squeeze in a nice custard of Englishness to bring it to life, the smells, the sights, the hats (God, what hats!), and most particularly the beautiful clothes.
For me, it begins with the magical stuff called tweed. The Scots of the New Hebrides islands originally wove this stout wool as a way of keeping the dampness and the thorns out of their highlander’s duty day. But their invention shed its practicality to become pure design, and soon the fabric acquired amazing fusions of color and texture and offered complexity more intricate than anything the Enigma engine dreamed up. Fortunately it was a code that didn’t need to be solved, merely displayed. Thus a style was born. So part of my Brit thing was pure tweed love—the sports coats and suits in the rough texture of the fall, all lit from within by glints of ochre and umber and twilight with random slubs of sunlight in the murk of green or brown. Where Swagger favors denim and chambray, I myself am a tweed man, through and through.
And that tweed speaks a different language than the American hero’s, and thus demands a different actor. Our fellows proclaim their crudeness of expression and lust for action by adapting poses that seem like the coil of a panther about to spring. On the contrary, a certain kind of Brit, caped in tweed, cosseted in chilled irony, finds a languor that is pure feline for comfort.
He’s almost effeminate, with his legs crossed thigh to calf instead of ankle to knee, the delicate way he holds his English Oval pinched between fingers, the alabaster nobility of his porcelain temples, the vaguely amused look on his face as he sends out little viper-strikes of dry humor that devastate whatever bloated target lies dead ahead. God, what style. God what self-possession, what self-confidence, what self-belief! He fears nothing except the vulgar.
But then, I suppose these English chaps of my imagination—cool as a Pimm’s cup—have never truly existed, any more than any Swagger. They're rhapsodies in tweed.