The movie Time After Time, released in 1979, purported that Jack the Ripper stole H.G. Wells’s time machine and went to the 20th century to be a modern-day serial killer. Jack Knife, however, reverses that. In 2007, government scientists are working on a time traveling machine called the Portal when the megalomaniacal Jonathan Avery makes an unauthorized trip in it, going back to Victorian England when Jack the Ripper was terrorizing the East End. Desperate to stop Avery from changing the past, scientist Sara Grant and Captain David Elliot go after him and find themselves in a London already altered by Avery, where they raise the suspicions of Inspector Jonas Robb with their knowledge of the future.
At times this book contains too many elements—mystery, romance, time travel altering both past and future—to do equal justice to all of them. Sara and Jonas’s romance is inevitable yet unmoving, and Sara and David, posing as brother and sister, skip in and out of society with an ease that would be impossible to the Victorians. What is poignant, though, are Sara’s encounters with prostitutes she know will die at the Ripper’s hands, and what Baker gets right is the treatment of women in this very repressive time. And, if Jack the Ripper could go into the present, it is equally absorbing to see him come from the future.