Stalking Jack The Ripper
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Genre: Historical Fiction | Crime | Young Adult
4.5 out of 5 stars. – This is quite simply a very enjoyable book. That isn’t to sell it sort at all. It is well paced, with a good plot, fun characters, and an interesting angle on feminism, but overall, this is a really fun book to read. Stalking Jack The Ripper follows the protagonist Audrey Rose as she attempts to navigate the murky social obligations of being a well-to-do Victorian lady, a daughter, and a woman who is intrigued by scientific discoveries. Domestic and personal issues are set against the historical backdrop of one of the greater detective mysteries of all time – who was Jack the Ripper? This could have easily been a very cheesy read, but I don’t think it was. I think it managed to say something serious within its pages while holding on to the mystery, thriller and fun aspects of the young adult genre.
Audrey Rose is a bright young girl with a brilliant mind. She wishes to pursue a life working in sciences, particularly within the newly developing field of forensics. However, this goes against her father’s wishes, and the general view of society at the time. As Audrey Rose attempts to take steps to secure her future, she – and those close to her – become embroiled in the investigation for the infamous Jack the Ripper, who has begun to stalk women on the streets of White Chapel. Audrey Rose must fight against society, the demons of both her past and present and a demon who stalks the night, to discover the killer before more women’s lives are lost.
“Roses have both petals and thorns, my dark flower. You needn’t believe something weak because it appears delicate.”
“Diamonds were everything I hoped to be; beautiful yet containing unimaginable strength.”
*This review has a spoiler at the end, please watch out for this if you have yet to read the book.*
I’m going to start with what I didn’t like, as this is the shortest part of the review. The repetition, early on, of the fact that the main character felt that her love interest was really annoying, but he was just so handsome she could not look away. I know this is a common thing in all romances, especially in YA romance, and it is not that I am overly bothered by this, but what annoyed me about it was the fact that Maniscalco’s writing was so good and so descriptive, that I didn’t need her to ‘tell’ me this. I could already see that. I could already feel that. So it is repeated about 5 times in the early chapters, in very quick succession, really made me cringe. But other than that? Nope, most of this book I loved.
Firstly, Audrey Rose as a character. Okay, we have a young girl who is not afraid to be both a pioneering, feminist young woman, but also a really feminine girl. Her mother told her that there is no harm in being beautiful and appearing delicate, while also maintaining strength and I think this was a fantastic thing to show. Too many books have people eschewing the more traditionally feminine aspects of a girl in favour of putting on a tomboyish or masculine view in order to move the character away from ‘girlish’ pursuits. I don’t think this book did that at all. I think this book was about rolling up your long, lace sleeves, pulling up your petticoats, putting on a swipe of protective lipstick, and really showing people what a woman is capable of. For me, this was also reinforced by the character of Liza. Liza, although she was shown gossiping, being interested in fashion, and wanting a husband, also fully supported Audrey Rose in pursuing her passion. Audrey came to respect her for this, and the bond of sisterhood between the two women was amazing. It also made me really smile that on her way to perform an autopsy, Audrey Rose actually stopped at a dress shop to order some new dresses, because she had made that excuse, so she should just take the opportunity as well.
Secondly, Thomas Cresswell. He was quirky, he was arrogant, intelligent, protective and supportive. The relationship between him an Audrey was fantastic to watch, and I really enjoyed his jesting, but I also loved his vulnerability. What sold him further though was his ability to push Audrey forward and really spur her on. There is also a moment between the two of them when he tries to show her how to protect herself. Now, I know some may think this is problematic – why has she got to be shown this by a man, etc – but I liked this little touch because of Audrey Rose’s response to it. She doesn’t pretend to know everything. She doesn’t feign weakness, but nor does she pretend to have complete strength. She is learning, and I like that. He can teach her something, so he does. But she can teach him other things, and I am really looking forward to this symbiotic relationship going forward.
Thirdly, the representations of grief, drug abuse, madness and religion. Honestly! This book has a lot of hidden depths, and all of it was cleverly handled by Maniscalco. Drug abuse was rife in Victorian London, and seeing this as a response to grief and paranoia is an amazing touch. Through the novel, we are given many different ways in which grief can manifest – whether this is through madness, self-destruction, determination, or curiosity. It is almost a study in how people behave and react differently to the same situations. I don’t want to spoil anything about the novel, so I’m not going to delve into this any deeper, but I think that there are definite aspects of insanity in this book that really could be explored further.
Fourthly, (wow it has been a long time since I’ve needed to use that word) we also have the crime and mystery aspect. At no point in the novel is this forgotten. It is not only a driving point, an important pacing and plot mechanism, but it is an integral part of the novel, and I am so glad. I didn’t want this to be left behind for the sake of romance, or family drama, or anything else. I love a good crime novel and that is what I really felt I got, thrilling moments included.
Fifthly, the imagery. Okay, this is a historical fiction novel. It is set in a real Victorian London and depicts a mystery that really did happen and is unsolved. So the fact that the author chose to include contemporary images from the age is fantastic. While also gruesome and intriguing, the images really helped to set the scene, creating a really rich tapestry to the setting and adding another, visual, dimension to the storytelling. I know other books have used pictures before, but I don’t think this novel overuses them, and I think when they are added it is used to further the immersion into what is a real point in history.
Finally, the ending to the novel. Well. Okay, I know that this will seem problematic, and honestly, it is just this and the first point I mentioned that stops this from getting a five. If you don’t want to know about the end, stop reading here, because…spoilers.
Why is she saved by a man? Stay with me here. I don’t feel like she really was ‘saved’ by Thomas’ arrival, or the arrival of her father, not completely, but I also think that potentially, there could have been a different way to do the ending which didn’t result in her being physically bound and so essentially helpless. Now, I support that she may need to learn a thing or two to physically fight against another person, but I disagree that she needed ‘saving’. In Maniscalco’s defence – can I come up with a better way to end it? Maybe not. Maybe Liza could have ended up trapped and Audrey Rose could have done the rescuing, or maybe both her and Thomas investigate and then Thomas ends up knocked out and Audrey has to essentially protect him? But who knows. Did this point ruin the book for me? No way. I still loved it.
If you liked this…
Both Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas and Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo have some kick-ass female leads, who love a bit of banter and wear some beautiful gowns. They are also fast-paced, enjoyable, laugh out loud reads.