Whitby,1894. A scientifically minded photographer begins to wonder whether his camera has the power to predict death and expose a killer.
Two apprentice photographers, David Taylor and John Evans, find themselves unemployed and desperate for work when their employer dies.
They fall into the clutches of Hood, a notorious charlatan, who is eager to exploit them as “spirit photographers” with the aid of the infamous Tate Camera now owned by David. This notorious camera is said to have the ability not only to photograph spirits, but it can predict how and when the person photographed will die.
Reluctantly, David and John become immersed into the dubious, murky trade of spirit photography. Although David stubbornly refuses to believe in the supernatural, he becomes unnerved when ghostly images start to appear on the untouched photographs of young women who soon fall victim of a man people are calling “The Whitby Ripper.”
Lucy Shaw, an ambitious reporter from The Whitby Herald, wants to expose both Hood and spirit photography as a fraud. She is a modern career woman eager to cover more exciting news than the flower shows her editor assigns. Her search for the truth attracts the attention of David, and possibly that of a murderer.
David is charming, handsome, a real lady-killer in every way. A relative newcomer to Whitby, he is reluctant to talk about his past or his direct link to the recent murder victims.
Is there any truth to the rumours about the Tate Camera? Can it predict the near future? Can it expose a killer?
Meanwhile…The Whitby Ripper waits for his next victim.
“Come forward, gentlemen!” Hood shouted out towards David and John, pointing in their direction with his cane. “Allow me to show this unique instrument to the audience.”
David moved forward gingerly before taking the camera out of its leather case and handing it over to Hood. Placing his cane on the ground, Hood lifted the camera up and rotated it slowly to the left, and then to the right.
“This is Patrick Tate’s remarkable camera,” he said with awe. “Ten years ago he was famous in Whitby because of the countless photographs taken with this very device. Tate took photographs of couples married at this church. Those with a white light around both their hearts would have a long and happy life together. Engaged couples would get Patrick Tate to take their photographs. He could spot anyone that would be unfaithful in the future¬…”
“How can it tell if someone would be unfaithful in the future,” asked a slender young woman in the audience. She nervously turned her head to look into the face of her male companion. Her brown hat fell off in the process and she picked it up and placed it back on her head.
“Their eyes would be very faint on the photograph, Madam,” replied Hood.
The slender young woman stared intently into the eyes of her male companion who grimaced, stepped backwards, and almost stumbled. Hood’s mouth twitched, but he managed to repress a chuckle on seeing what he suspected to be the untangling of that particular relationship.
“How can you tell a murderer?” asked a moustached man, raising his folded newspaper in the air. “Like the bastard who murdered Miss Betts?”
“Murderers, at least those who would be caught and punished for their crimes, would have the thin shadow of a noose around their necks. A dark shadow shaped like an arrow would appear over the head of anyone who was shortly to be murdered. It would be only a matter of days, a week, or ten days at the most, and they would be dead. If the arrow over their heads was lighter in appearance, they were destined to die within a matter of weeks or months.”
“Would this shadow show if someone has a natural death?” asked a pale young man with protruding ears and a whispery voice.
Hood looked at the emaciated young man in clothes far too big for his body, noticed the fidgety fingers of the sick-looking man, and thought it incredible how this human corpse could manage to remain on his feet. “What is your name, Sir?” he asked. This man could be a future customer, assuming he lived long enough.
“Thomas Loach,” he replied.
“In contrast, Mr Loach, those people who were to die from natural causes within the next three months would have a shadow in the shape of a blurred human hand over their heads.”
“Does the hand mean they will go to heaven?” asked Thomas Loach with an expectant smile on his face.
“The answer to that question can only be found if the photograph is taken in the final, precious moments before their death,” Hood replied sombrely. “The hand will no longer be visible, but there will be a bright light above them, indicating that heaven is about to receive them.”
“What if the photograph does not show this bright light?” asked Thomas.
Hood raised his cane to his temple to concentrate for a moment. “I think we can be certain that they have not gone to heaven, but what will become of them is not clear.”
“What do you think happens?” asked Thomas.
“They may be about to embark on the journey to hell. Or their final destination is not yet determined. They may be destined to be the ghosts living amongst us for all eternity.”
“Can the camera catch the murderer?” asked a nervous, elderly woman who was unsteadily balanced on her feet despite the aid of two walking sticks.
Hood had anticipated this question. “What do you think, Madam? Remember that Mr Tate once took a photograph of a group of navvies. One of the gentlemen had the shadow of a rope around his neck. He was later convicted and hung for murdering a railway foreman. It was only discovered later when somebody carefully examined the photograph under a magnifying glass.”
“How can you be sure what the shadows mean on the photographs?” asked a young woman dressed in a purple cloak with badly frayed cuffs.
“Patrick Tate took hundreds of photographs with this camera. It was only after careful study of the photographs that led to these conclusions, rather than any invention on my part. Tate also found that the camera could capture the image of ghosts and the spirits of dead relatives and friends.”
“Is the tour of Lythe Castle still going ahead on Saturday afternoon?” she asked.
“It is, Madam,” replied Hood. “Mr Tate’s camera captured images of ghosts in 1884, including the image of a young servant girl who was murdered in 1774 at the castle. I hope my two young friends here will bring this unique instrument along to see if we can get similar results.”
“Can I come along, then?” she asked.
“It will be a large group, but you would be welcome to join us,” replied Hood gallantly.
The woman smiled appreciatively but said nothing. He had given the audience their money’s worth. They had received one-hour and fifteen minutes of his precious time, as well as his vast experience of the location and its history. But one minute more was more than they deserved.
He waved his cane in the air. “And that concludes today’s tour of the abbey and church, ladies and gentlemen.”
There was muted applause from the audience. Although he always collected the money at the start of the tour, he also passed his hat around at the end. God loves a trier, but on this occasion he only found two shillings and eight pence inside.