“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 exterior.”
Kerri Maniscalco | Stalking Jack the Ripper | p. 306
On this cold and uninviting afternoon in November, I want to share with you a really enjoyable read of mine that really fits the weather outside perfectly: ‘Stalking Jack the Ripper’ by Kerri Maniscalco, the first book of a series containing four books in total.
The story, set in 1888 in London, is about seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth, whose greatest wish is to be accepted as a student of medical forensics. She longs to be in a laboratory, using her scalpel to discover the truth about the cause of death. At the same time, a killer roams the streets of London, leaving his victims brutally mutilated. Together with her uncle and his other apprentice, Audrey Rose tries to get to the bottom of these murders, wandering deeper and deeper into dangerous territory by escaping afternoon tea parties and stalking the Ripper.
“The clouds were rolling in, covering the last sliver of the moon.
It was the perfect night to hunt a murderer on the streets of Whitechapel.”
– p. 257
During my time studying English and American Studies at university I took part in a class centering on the city in 19th Century London. Here we discussed the Victorian Age, city construction, West and East End and – of course – the Whitechapel murders and the infamous serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, who terrified a whole nation. This very real phantom plays an important role in ‘Stalking Jack the Ripper’. Those of you who have never heard of the Whitechapel murders, here a short summary: Between April third, 1888 and February thirteenth, 1891, eleven murders were committed in London’s poorer area, the East End. All victims were women, most of them worked as prostitutes and they were all brutally murdered and horribly mutilation. For more information on the topic, follow this link , it helped me a lot for my own studies at that time.
What has always been fascinating and creepy to me is the fact that although there had been a fair amount of suspects, the Ripper actually never got caught. Until this day, the gruesome Whitechapel murders have never been solved. This, of course, leaves a lot of room for speculation as to who the Ripper was, which class of Victorian society he belonged to and which motives lay behind his murderous actions. I remember sitting in this class and wishing for someone to write a book about this. And then I heard about Maniscalco’s ‘Stalking Jack the Ripper’ and couldn’t believe my luck. I was beyond thrilled to read it and it really is a shame it took me so long to pick it up.
This book is gory and romantic at the same time and I enjoyed it so very much. It kept reminding me of the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ novels by Arthur Conan Doyle, or of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. The gothic vibe in this story is thrilling to read, following Audrey Rose through dark and misty streets of the East End, encountering the exact opposite of her sheltered, West End life with its tea parties and ball gowns. I also was strongly reminded of The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libby Bray with its scenery and protagonists. It was, as though the protagonists of the trilogy I enjoyed a lot during my teens came to life again in this book, which is why I was a bit confused and thrilled at the same time. Also, props to those who designed the book’s cover and its overall layout with inserted notes, creative headlines and photographs from back in the day. It is stunning!
“Seems a bit odd, don’t you think?”
“No, Wadsworth,” Thomas said blandly, “sending a kidney through the mail is quite ordinary. I do it at least three times a week to remain fashionable. You ought to try it. Really impress the girls at tea.”
– p. 249
What’s more, I love Audrey Rose’s progressiveness and her advanced views on society and a woman’s place in it. Since I recently read ‘Jane Eyre’, which was published 40 years before the Whitechapel murders occured, modern and independent thinking in women is definitely not uncommon at that time. I applauded Audrey Rose’s courage and understood her struggles.
“Wield your assets like a blade, Cousin. No man has invented a corset for our brains. Let them think they rule the world. It’s a queen who sits on that throne. Never forget that. There’s no reason you can’t wear a simple frock to work, then don the finest gown and dance the night away. But only if it pleases you.”
– p. 144
Although I strongly suspected who the Ripper was very early on (the description of the book kind of gave it away for me), it didn’t take the fun out of this reading experience. The right amount of mystery and gore in a dark, glittering Victorian setting mixed with hints of gothic romance and a writing style that kept me hooked to the story from its promising beginning to its unsettling ending – it was beyond enjoyable.
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Title: Stalking Jack the Ripper
Press: Jimmy Patterson Books
Year of publication: 2016
[Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery]