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The String of Pearls – The original tale of Sweeney Todd by Anon (Wordsworth Classics, 272pp, £2.99)

This is a story of Gothic horror without the supernatural. This is a story filled with evil that can only be described as man-made. The villains in this book had not need of the devil or other dark forces to chill readers’ hearts or fill them with revulsion.

The essence of the horror within these pages is that it could have happened; that it only needed greed and a total disregard for life, human or otherwise, to make it a reality.

I grew up knowing the story of Sweeney Todd and have been stunned recently by the number of people who have never heard of the Barber of Fleet Street, who killed his customers and disposed of their bodies in a rather creative fashion.

Not only is this book a tale of horror, but also a love story and a murder mystery/detective tale.

And do not be tempted to ignore the Introduction (probably best left until after reading the novel) as it explains the dastardly world of the Penny Dreadfuls where plagiarism was rampant and disregard for the law was every bit as common in real life as it was in the pages of the stories published to the public for illicit gain.

The Introduction explains how the world of the Penny Dreadful, with its theft of literary works and remoulding of stories to prolong financial gain, has caused knowledge of the true authorship of this unique story to be lost forever.

The String of Pearls: A Romance first appeared between 21st November, 1846 and 20th March, 1847 as a serialised story in a Penny Dreadful magazine called The People’s Periodical and Family Library. It was later expanded and re-issued in 1850.

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