Initiated to Kill by Sharlene Almond is a thriller steeped in layer upon layer of conspiracies. It deals with the sinister power of the Freemasons and takes the reader on a journey through the ages.
The premise of the novel is that the Freemasons have cast a long shadow over history and still have a great deal of influence over current events. The tentacles of this sinister organisation reach into all major institutions making their position untouchable. Almond cleverly links the story of Jack the Ripper with present day crimes as they all fall under the activities of the Freemasons, whose prime goal is to cause as much chaos as possible in order to assert control in the ensuing vacuum.
Almond’s novel takes the reader to a range of settings from London, Russia and Seville. The contemporary sections of the novel are based in Seville and this is where Almond demonstrates her skill as she vividly depicts the Spanish city in all its glory. The description is very visual and it’s no coincidence that art is a thread running through the novel as the leading character is an art historian and Jack the Ripper is presented as a painter.
There are lots of characters in the story as Jack the Ripper’s story and the contemporary one run side by side. In the contemporary strand the protagonist is Annabella Cordova, a young Art History student at the Seville University. She has endured a difficult past, which is revealed to us in flashback, and her current life is thrown into turmoil when her friend disappears. As more and more girls begin to disappear Annabella’s path crosses with Detectives Valero and Rivero.
Essentially, the modern hunt for the missing girls mirrors the Victorian hunt for Jack the Ripper. The Ripper taunted the police with letters and the modern murderer does the same by sending human hearts to the investigators. Almond creates much tension in her novel and the reader is kept guessing right until the very end as the influence of the Freemasons means it’s never certain who is actually involved in the crimes.
Initiated to Kill is a novel with a lot to offer but the exciting plot is undermined by the constant switching of timelines and viewpoints. The main time frames for the story are London 1888 and 1996 and Seville 2010 but it also switches briefly to other times in order to contextualise some of the back stories. In the end there is simply too much going back and forth and it has a detrimental effect on the flow. The switching from 3rd person to 1st person also doesn’t help as it’s not always clear whose story we are following. In my opinion this is a novel that might have been better as two distinct novels; Jack the Ripper’s story and Annabella’s story.
I really liked the way Almond tried to depict Jack the Ripper as a rounded character. The flashbacks to his childhood and his early psychopathic behaviour made him interesting. However, any real characterisation is lost in the density of the novel and the sheer number of characters in it. I found myself having to jot down names just to keep up with them and the body count is so high it’s hard to feel invested in anybody.
I love a conspiracy theory and I think Almond has a great idea in fictionalising the Freemason’s history and potential legacy. I found myself completely believing the story that Almond creates. However, there are times when she writes at such length about the historical origins and background of the brotherhood that it pulls the reader out of the story and starts to feel like an essay. There is no doubt that Almond has done a lot of research for her book but in places a lighter touch would have been beneficial.
All in all, Initiated to Kill kept me intrigued and guessing until the end. If you enjoy a thriller with a conspiracy twist then give this one a try.