Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)
By: Kerri Maniscalo
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Publication Date: September 20th, 2016
Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.
Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.
I think it’s very apparent to all regular readers of this blog, but I am drawn to period Victorian steampunk-esque stories like a moth to a flame. Therefore, it was inevitable that Stalking Jack the Ripper would end up in my hands. The premise sounded highly intriguing–but I found the book didn’t live up.
This might have been partially my fault. The title and tagline gave me an image of a girl literally stalking this devious killer, knife in hand. In reality, Audrey Rose is an apprentice mortician to her uncle, and finds herself drawn deeply into the Jack the Ripper events through various connections to her family. There was no stalking (well, one instance), which was mildly disappointing.
I did, however, enjoy the actual premise. I mean, Jack the Ripper is something that grabs everyone’s imaginations. He’s about second to none when it comes to brutal serial killers (or at least he’s the most well-known), and any premise that puts a teenage girl up against someone like that is an automatic attention-grabber. I also appreciated the author’s attention to detail–I liked the inclusion of the period photographs, and the historian in me appreciated her note about the details she altered or left out, and the greater context and information.
Audrey Rose was an interesting character, spunky and sharp, with no interest in what society wanted her to be interested in, and a fascination with death and bodies. I liked how her fondness for clothes was contrasted with her obsession with forensics, and how she was rather unabashedly what she wanted to be. I liked her sharpness, too, her refusal to silence herself. The other characters were also intriguing, with many of them highly complex characters in their own right. The only one I had issue with was Thomas, and that was because it felt like the author had tried to make him both Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes. He was suavely arrogant and really socially awkward at the same time, which was odd (if I had a preference, I would have tilted him more towards the Benedict Cumberbatch side).
I also had a few issues with the writing of Stalking Jack the Ripper. Kerri’s descriptive powers were wonderful, and she created a very evocative atmosphere. However, there were issues with the tension of the book, which isn’t great for suspense. I got really bored during the slow parts of the book, and then the fast-paced suspenseful bits failed to grab me on numerous occasions. Part of this might have been that I never got a solid idea of time passing–three weeks passed between one chapter and another, which was somewhat jarring. Also, some of the plot happenings felt forced, although I’m going to be lenient and attribute that to having to build a fiction book around actual real-life events.
Despite the author’s attention to historical detail, there was also some historical anachronism that bugged me to an irrational degree. Although I appreciate Kerri’s research into the Jack the Ripper events, I wasn’t sure why she had a Victorian character wearing kohl and lip color, or why her socialite aunt was encouraging her to do so (the only makeup look in the Victorian Era, unless you were an actress and/or a prostitute, was the no-makeup look). I’m also not sure why it was a big deal that Audrey Rose kept wearing riding habits, because in this period they looked just like normal dresses except for a side train, and that was gathered up unless you were actually on a horse. Ergo, even if she had been wearing pants, they wouldn’t have been visible, and that side train would have been annoyingly impractical for running around stalking murderers. These are really small details to get irked about, but every time they came up they threw me out of the author’s carefully constructed Victorian atmosphere. Also, to me, it screams sloppiness. It takes exactly one google search to establish that Victorians didn’t wear makeup, and compared to the research into Jack the Ripper, it would have taken two minutes to do just a little more research.
I liked the premise, and I enjoyed reading the book, but I had several issues with it, and this isn’t going to become a favorite of mine. Maybe for someone less historically-minded it would be more enjoyable, but this was a book I had high hopes for going into, and it’s hard not to feel rather disappointed after finishing it.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us. An advanced copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.