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Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper
Robert Bloch
Subterranean Press, 332 pages

Robert Bloch
Robert Bloch (1917-1994) is remembered primarily for his novel Psycho (1959) the source of Alfred Hitchcock's film (1960). However, much of his horror, be it psychological or occult, had a strong sense of black humour. This sense of humour runs more to the slapstick in such works as his Lefty Feep stories (1942-46, reprinted 1987) and It's All in Your Mind (1971; orig. mag. appearance: The Big Binge, 1955).

Born in Chicago, he first discovered Weird Tales and the works of H.P. Lovecraft at age 10. By 1933, now living in Milwaukee, Bloch began a correspondence with H.P. Lovecraft which lasted until the latter's death in 1937, and resulted in Bloch's use of Lovecraft as a character in one of his stories and vice-versa. Bloch's 1978 novel Strange Eons was an obvious homage to Lovecraft. Much of Bloch's early pulp tales were collected in The Opener of the Way (1945, reprinted 1976) and Mysteries of the Worm (1981). Bloch was also involved in early fandom and an SF writer's circle, the "Milwaukee Fictioneers," which included Stanley G. Weinbaum, Ralph Milne Farley, and Raymond Palmer.

His first novel The Scarf (1947), the first-person narrative of a psychotic killer, was the first of many novels in the genre. In 1953, Bloch moved his family to Weyauwega, WI, where he continued writing suspense novels. In 1959, Bloch won the Hugo for best short story for his horror tale "That Hell-Bound Train" and moved to California. There, over the years he wrote numerous short stories, scripts for TV (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, Star Trek), and for suspense films (Strait-Jacket, The Night Walker, The Skull, The Psychopath, The Deadly Bees, Torture Garden, The House That Dripped Blood). His autobiography, Once Around the Bloch, was published in 1993, a year before his death from cancer.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Fear Planet and Other Unusual Destinations
SF Site Review: Hell on Earth
Robert Bloch Tribute Site
Robert Bloch Bio
Obituary from The Buffalo News
The Robert Bloch Award
Subterranean Press
MOVIE: Psycho excerpt (Quicktime and Real Player versions)
MOVIE: Straight-Jacket with *.MOV clip
E -TEXT: "I Was a Fake Fan for the FBI!"
E-TEXT: "Left at the Post"
E-TEXT : "Poe and Lovecraft"
E-TEXT: "Chips off the Old Bloch" by Dean A. Grennell
E-TEXT: "Robert Bloch" by Esther Cole
E-TEXT: "I Remember Me" by Walt Willis

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Richard A. Lupoff

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Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper So many authors are known for a single work or even a single character that it practically becomes part of their names: "Mary-Shelley-author-of-Frankenstein," "Harriet-Beecher-Stowe-author-of-Uncle-Tom's-Cabin, Arthur-Conan-Doyle-creator-of-Sherlock-Holmes," "Bram-Stoker-author-of-Dracula."

It's a rarity that this kind of lightning strikes the same author twice, but it happened to Robert Bloch (1917-1994). A prolific author of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and crime fiction, he became famous for his short story, "Yours Truly Jack the Ripper," that appeared in Weird Tales in 1943. He returned to the theme of the 1888 London murders in a number of later stories and in the 1984 novel Night of the Ripper. And for a good many years he was known as "Robert-Bloch-author-of-'Yours-Truly-Jack-the-Ripper.'"

But in the meanwhile, in the course of a seemingly endless stream of short fiction and novels, he wrote a little psychological thriller. The short novel was published by Simon & Shuster, as I recall, accompanied by very little fanfare. It was titled Psycho.

The following year the Alfred Hitchcock film based on Bloch's novel made its debut. What a memorable film! Janet Leigh taking the most famous shower in cinematic history, Anthony Perkins showing his stuff as a transvestite serial killer, Bernard Hermann's shrieking musical score...

And the author behind it all would be known for the rest of his days as "Robert-Bloch-author-of-Psycho." Well, not a bad sobriquet.

But we should not let Bloch's other works fade away in the glare of the neon lights advertising the Bates Motel. On the contrary, Subterranean Press is to be praised for bringing together Bloch's various Ripper-oriented writings. This new collection contains not only the first of Bloch's "Ripper" stories but two later short stories on the same theme as well as the novel Night of the Ripper, a relevant Star Trek script, "Wolf in the Fold," and two fine, regrettably brief, essays on the subject by Bloch. There is also a knowledgeable introduction by Norman Partridge.

Bloch's research is extensive and most impressive. The feel of 1888 London transmitted by his novel is remarkable.

One might pick an occasional nit. For instance, Bloch refers to "Bertillion fingerprints," when in fact Bertillion's method of biometrical anthropometry was a system widely used by police before fingerprinting was generally adopted in criminal identification. The two systems operated in parallel (and in competition) for a number of years, before fingerprinting triumphed and anthropometry was abandoned.

Cameo appearances by Oscar Wilde, Richard Mansfield, George Bernard Shaw, the Elephant Man, and Arthur Conan Doyle (discussing "What Would Sherlock Do?") are cute but unnecessary and ultimately distracting.

Through the persona of Mark Robinson, an American physician visiting London, the reader sees the horrific events in Whitechapel take place. Bloch, through Hamilton, examines the best known and most credible suggestions as to the true identity of Saucy Jack, and eventually reaches a solution of his own which strikes this reviewer as slightly far-fetched. But then, the crimes were themselves almost unbelievable in their savagery and in the luridness of their details, and were never actually solved despite the bruiting of endlessly varied theories.

In sum, Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper is an excellent collection, very much a must for the Bloch fan. It would have benefited by the inclusion of complete original publication data on its contents; the single copyright notice is at best useless and at worst misleading.

Copyright © 2011 Richard A. Lupoff

Richard A. Lupoff is the author of many novels and short stories. His most recent books are The Classic Car Killer (St. Martin's Press) and Dreams (Mythos Books). His next book will be Rookie Blues (Dark Sun Press).


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