Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco and presented by James Patterson was chosen by my online book club to read for the month of November. I didn’t finish reading it until recently, but my tardiness is entirely the result of holiday busyness and should not, in any way, reflect upon the book itself.
I’ll fully admit that when the book was chosen, I was not 100% on board with it. I’ve never been the biggest fan of historic pieces, and that’s what I assumed this was. However, I was put in my place right from the start, because while the story does follow the brutal murders of Jack the Ripper, and although Maniscalco does weave in as much historical truth as possible, the overarching story is a wonderful work of fiction that had me hooked right from the off.
We have to start with our heroine, Ms Audrey Rose Wadsworth, whom I fell in love with right from the beginning and kept loving more and more as the story went on. Audrey Rose is a lovely lady from a well-off family who is every bit a feminist, but not the type we’ve come to know (and occasionally hate) in this modern day. Audrey Rose is devilishly interested in science, unheard of for women of her era, and has many firm beliefs about a woman’s place in the world, that being more or less that she belongs exactly where she chooses to be. Our protagonist believes that a woman can do anything a man can do, should she choose to do so, and she is not shy about sharing those thoughts and feelings. Simultaneously, however, Audrey Rose revels in her own feminine side, and doesn’t feel ashamed by it for one second. She digs elbows deep into cadavers in order to unlock the secrets of the human body, and then turns around and commissions lovely dresses and learns proper makeup application from her cousin. It’s an extraordinarily refreshing take, to see a woman who believes in strength and progress for women, who also accepts the fact that she loves “womanly” things and that’s perfectly fine too. Of course, she has her flaws – she can occasionally be a bit snooty, a bit naive, and certainly lets her emotions get the best of her on occasion – but a protagonist without flaws is an unacceptably boring protagonist indeed.
Meanwhile we have a delightful co-star to the piece in the Mr Thomas Cresswell. He and Audrey both apprentice under her uncle in order to learn forensic science, and when we meet Thomas he is an extraordinarily cocky young man who knows how terribly clever he is and has no trouble sharing that information. However, we feel a bit of affection for him as it is clear that he, unlike so many others, has absolutely no qualms with Audrey’s choice to pursue science, and makes it clear (if not in an incredibly annoying way) that he believes Audrey to be an extraordinarily intelligent talent herself. As the story progresses we love him more and more as his annoying little habits become interspersed with moments of vulnerability and a relatable backstory.
I’m focusing on the characters because they truly are what make the story, but of course there is the wonderful plot as well, which follows our two leads as they work to try and uncover the identity of the mysterious murderer who has been hacking ladies of the evening into pieces. As she outlines in an additional section at the end of the book, Maniscalco did her very best to work as much historical accuracy into the story as she could, while still creating a fictional tale with an interesting end to the story that has no actual end in real life. I, personally, think she did an amazing job. The ending, in particular, took me completely by surprise, as I had correctly guessed at the identity of the killer, but not at the motive for the killings. It made for what I thought was a wonderful conclusion, and it makes me keen to wonder what kind of other ideas Maniscalco has up her sleeve for future tales.
The book, if you hadn’t guessed, is the first in a series following Ms Audrey Rose as she delves into further mysteries. The second entry is titled Hunting Prince Dracula and I genuinely can’t wait to get into it, as I’ve been completely enchanted by Maniscalco’s writing style.
If you’re a fan of young adult fiction, this is definitely a book worth looking into, but even if you’re not a YA fan, it is still worth looking into. It’s a macabre tale that doesn’t skimp on the gore when it’s a logical place for such things to exist, and it has wonderful characters, lots of fun moments, lots of creepy ones, and does a great job of making you feel like this could actually have been the true story of the real Jack the Ripper. A little slow at times, it is an otherwise entrancing novel that I found myself desperate to reach the conclusion of, and it has made me excited for Maniscalco’s future tales. Two thumbs up!