Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco is a young adult Victorian era crime mystery novel that is also the first book in a series of the same name. After hearing a fellow book blogger raving about the book, I figured I should try reading it myself as it sounded like something I would enjoy. I had my reservations going into it, but after finishing the novel, I must say that it was a pleasant surprise, to say the least!
Stalking Jack the Ripper follows Audrey Rose Wadsworth who, after losing her mother tragically to illness, begins a secret apprenticeship with the local coroner. In an effort to process her grief and understand the nature of death, Audrey Rose brilliantly studies human anatomy. But when brutal and violent “ripper” killings begin, swept away in a flurry of emotion, she becomes determined to solve the crime herself!
“Death was not prejudiced by mortal things such as station or gender. It came for kings and queens and prostitutes alike, often leaving the living with regrets.”
This book is spectacularly balanced in almost every way imaginable. The suspense, mystery, graphic depictions of death and dissection, and the complexities of human emotions are all woven together to create a narrative that is much more than a murder mystery. At its core it’s a story about people and the variety of factors that make us do some very disturbing things that we don’t believe humans as a race can be capable of doing. This layer of dimension really took me by surprise and worked diligently to keep me engaged and interested from start to finish. It also helped flesh out quite a few of the characters that would have otherwise been quite bland and feeble plot additions.
Audrey Rose as a main character is an excellent example. In the midst of grief, she works assiduously to keep her mind as preoccupied as possible so as not to think about her mother’s passing and how dreadfully it has impacted her home life. Her mother was a strong, independent woman who didn’t believe in inequality between genders, a trait she passed on to her daughter. This profound confidence in equality is one of the factors that drives Audrey to participate in some of the most outrageous schemes that come to mind. It also helps shape her persona; a fiercely self-determining and emphatic character that is imperfect yet compassionate and altruistic. It made her likeable, relatable, and more charming as a protagonist.
Another thing that I appreciated about her is that she is a biracial character who has a grandmother that is of Indian descent. I believe her mother was also biracial—half-Indian and half-white—but it’s never expressed explicitly. There were small cultural references to her South Asian identity whenever she would reminisce about her mother dressing her up in saris, which she adored, or how much she loved her grandmother’s Indian dishes. At one point in the book she attends a carnival where they serve Indian food, and the names of the dishes were (mostly) labelled with their traditional Indian names, which I treasured even more!
She has a partner in the book who helps her with her wild plans at catching the culprit, who also happens to be her romantic counterpart. He is devilishly delightful and offers a decent break from the macabre with fun, British-infused flirtations that fit the era and complements Audrey’s fiery wit exceptionally. He also has deductive abilities that are quite akin to a certain Holmes character that many bookworms will appreciate; I know that I did immensely! The romance is a bit of a slow-burn as it avoids common insta-love traits and is built upon a gradual growth of trust from interaction and conversation. As a reader who loathes insta-love, I think this moderate pacing of attraction is what kept me from feeling fed-up with the romance aspects of the novel. While I didn’t have an issue with it, I can see how some readers may be put-off by it as it is a big part of the book.
As far as the mysterious and criminal qualities of the narrative are concerned, I felt they were superbly executed. The atmosphere has a wicked veil over it that switches from subtle to heavy depending on what is unfolding in the moment, but it never completely dissipates. There was always a sense of apprehension that hung over me as I kept reading. It’s uncomfortable and eerie at times, which further contributed to that macabre ambiance I mentioned earlier.
While the culprit is relatively easy to gauge for me, as I read and watch tons of crime fiction, it was still pleasant seeing how Audrey was led to this person. I will admit that on occasion I questioned whether or not I had the right person in mind. I was both satisfied and disappointed to learn that I was indeed correct. The climax leading up to the big reveal was constructed with a good sense of anticipation without dragging things out unnecessarily or being superfluously rushed. Again, the balance of it was admirable!
“Monsters were supposed to be scary and ugly. They weren’t supposed to hide behind friendly smiles and well-trimmed hair. Goodness, twisted as it might be, was not meant to be locked away in an icy heart and anxious interior.”
The only minor complaint I have, and even then, I wouldn’t really say it’s a complaint, is that the book goes through some slow waves as it transitions from one major plot point to the next. The flirty encounters between Audrey Rose and her beau, or jarring familial arguments tended to fill these voids rather nicely, yet it was still noticeable once in a while.
All in all, Stalking Jack the Ripper was a superb mystery that’s equally balanced in a variety of ways, uses appropriate dialogue to the era (Victorian), avoids insta-love mechanics, and is gratifyingly adult with its violence and killings, and I am glad to recommend it! If you enjoy young adult literature and don’t mind some romance with your Jack the Ripper shenanigans, then you should definitely give this book a chance.