Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Stalking Jack The Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
Well, it's good to know that James Patterson's publishing company can put out a good book anyway. Even so, isn't that just the greatest title ever!? How can you not get sucked in immediately after hearing that?! It's just a fantastic title and the kind you wanna kick yourself for not thinking of first. But the title is one thing, can the rest of the book live up to such an amazing title? Let's dive right in.
Audrey Rose Wadsworth is a most unusual girl. While most ladies her age are busy stitching handkerchiefs, Audrey is stitching up corpses in her uncle's forensic laboratory. In an age where forensics were still very much in their prime and considered by many to be nothing short of blasphemy, Audrey and her Uncle practice this delicate science of the deceased human body against the wishes of society as well as Audrey's OCD father. Their help is especially needed as a horrifying killer arrives in Whitechapel, brutally murdering prostitutes and seemingly stealing their organs. Audrey become obsessed with the case, taking serious risks and teaming up with her uncle's smug assistant to track down and stop the Ripper once and for all.
I like to think that everybody has a "thing" that they like in spite of themselves. One certain, macabre, dark "thing" that they can't help but find fascinating and want to look into and read up on, even if it is unpleasant and might make other people raise their eyebrows and ask "why would you want to know about that?" when they too have a "thing" and they just won't admit it. For me, that thing is Jack the Ripper (among other "things"). I just love hearing about the guy, one of the reasons I was so eager to get a hold of this book in the first place. And that is the first and best thing about this book. Audrey Rose is fascinated by the dark and mysterious and can relate to all of us weirdos who have "things" (who will admit it). She's not ashamed of her fascination with the dead and her desire to cut up bodies and explore the mysteries they can hide. Even if society forces her to keep it a secret, she's not willing to give it up or bury it away. She's very proud of what she can do and is just as capable as any man who can do the same thing. However, there's more to her than a girl who likes to cut up dead people. She likes to be girly too. She wears makeup and attends tea and enjoys those things (well, maybe not so much the teas). It's like what Throne of Glass was trying to do with its protagonist, trying to balance both masculinity and femininity within one character. Where that character got a bit out of hand, Audrey Rose is much more toned down and therefore a bit more believable. She was never too nice or too rough, didn't turn away help when it was offered but felt herself capable of doing whatever she set her mind to. She's just a wonderful character and I liked her a lot.
Now the story, like most retellings of historical events, tends to bend history and twist the dates a bit in order to fit what the author has in mind. The dates are a bit off, things took place that actually didn't and most Ripper enthusiasts might be bothered by those that but not so much that it takes away from the story altogether. While it's clear some liberties were taken, and the author does admit to them, it's clear that this lady did her homework on the Ripper. The forensics that they do in the book are equal to what they would have been back then, the victims and their conditions match up, heck even victims beyond the Canonical Five are mentioned, something that I was really happy to see, as are Jack the Ripper's letters to the press. Yeah, the dates are off but the details are there where they matter and I feel it really did do the case justice.
Like most Jack the Ripper stories, the story takes a whodunnit route and it's all about discovering the killer's identity. The beauty of this angle is that, since the Ripper was never caught in real life, he could be anyone. As a mystery, the book does a good job of surrounding the reader with tons of possibilities and suspects, from whom we can draw our own conclusions. The story is kept central to the main character and so doesn't include lots of the popular Free Mason conspiracy stuff you find in a lot of other Ripper stories. It's Audrey Rose's story and it's very much connected to her life and how the Ripper plays into it. But there is risk and good tension and false leads just like any good mystery. There are a couple of plot threads that I didn't really think lead to anything, but for the most part the story, as a whole, does come together and works out. The suspects are each really good and have their own means and motivations for being the Ripper and the reveal does lead to a pretty intense climax. No spoilers but I'm sure any lover of the dark and gothic will be pleased with the end result.
Dark, macabre, intriguing, this story has it all. Great atmosphere, gory violence, posh Victorian England staples, and an unsolved mystery almost one hundred and thirty years in the making. Over all, Stalking Jack the Ripper is a just a treat and has earned a place on the Shelf of Recommendation!
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Next time: How do you live your life when a past one refuses to leave you be?