I rarely do this, but maybe I’ll start doing it more. I have a lot to say about this story and I’m afraid I can’t do that without including spoilers. So, if you want to read the story first, check out Behind the Leather Apron by Alana Turner, found in Dark Visions: An Anthology of 34 Horror Stories from 27 Authors (The Box Under the Bed Book 2).
Read it? Okay, let’s jump right in!
A serial killer has contributed to an air of terror in the night. People are afraid to leave their houses. We see the killer eviscerate his latest victim, barely finishing before approaching his next intended. But his newest prey has a secret. One that she shares with him.
Behind the Leather Apron starts strong, with a compelling and vivid first paragraph. The writing is clear and well edited, and sets a creeping tone of fear for the reader, as well as setting the scene for the characters. Ms. Turner includes a recurring theme of darkness, which nearly becomes a character all its own. We’re at creep factor 11 here.
There were a few elements that I found to be distracting. At the point in the story where the killer sets his sights on his newest victim, he is finishing murdering and displaying his most recent victim. Paragraph after paragraph is devoted to the murdered woman’s blood loss, how it covers everything, making the murder somehow beautiful. In this description, it’s obvious that the killer must also be covered in blood, including his own, from a blow delivered by his victim. So it’s a little jarring to me that he immediately approaches a woman he describes as beautiful beyond compare.
Perhaps the fact that he is a butcher might offset that, but there’s no confirmation in the story that the killer is, in fact, a butcher by trade. He is obviously a butcher in the murder trade (as opposed to a strangler or a shooter), but whether his daytime profession is as a butcher remains to be seen. Regardless, approaching a woman in the night covered in fresh blood doesn’t seem to be the best way to earn someone’s trust enough to get them to leave with you. But I digress.
If you’ve read the story, then you know, based on the last few paragraphs of the story, that the narrator is a man. However, I had noted earlier in the story that we didn’t actually know this. Until this characteristic was revealed, I found myself captivated by the idea that this violent and sadistic murderer could be a woman. I wasn’t disappointed that it was a man, but I did think how unusual it would have been if it was revealed that the crimes were committed by a woman.
The writing in Behind the Leather Apron is compellingly sneaky (in a good way!). I find that I can picture the events of this story taking place present day, or at any time in the modern past. The strongest sense that I got of the time period is that this was taking place in the late 18oo’s, around the time when Jack the Ripper was active. Of course, the mention of Whitechapel certainly could have contributed to that, along with the fact that the murderer killed with a knife and displayed his victims. But there are a lot of crimes that could fit those similarities, so the fact that Whitechapel was mentioned didn’t exactly seal the deal for me on the time period.
I’m not certain if the main character is meant to be Jack the Ripper, but I hope it isn’t, and as the reader I choose to believe that it isn’t. I like the idea of a copycat, or that this murderer is Jack the Ripper’s inspiration. The elements of the murders being religiously motivated, as well as the murderer’s obsession with his mother, are interesting insights into the psyche that would certainly fit the Ripper, and many other sociopathic killers. I think I found the idea that this story could be taking place at any time period, including now, makes the story that much better. I’d be interested to see if other readers felt the same way.
I think the shining star of Behind the Leather Apron is the writing itself. The tone and voice are so intentional, so calculating, that you get the feeling you’re actually in the presence of a violent sociopath, rather than simply sitting alone in the comfort of your own home. It’s quite a chilling effect, and one that should be applauded.
Even though I included some spoilers in this review, I’m not going to talk about the ending because I do want other readers to check it out themselves. All I’ll say is that I liked it, even if it was a little bit predictable.
Despite the issues that I had with this, I still found this to be an excellent story, one certainly deserving of being included in a horror anthology. I look forward to reading more work from Alana Turner. And if you haven’t read Behind the Leather Apron, I strongly suggest you do.
Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:
Photo courtesy of Avi Agarwal via Unsplash.