Title: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Genre(s): Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Horror, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction
Gisselle's Rating: 4/5
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for Stalking Jack the Ripper.
Victorian London has always been one of my favorite eras to visit when reading novels, and in Stalking Jack the Ripper, the first installment in a series, Kerri Maniscalco brings us the high brow, wealthy society of the upper class in London in the midst of the Jack the Ripper murders.
Audrey Rose Wadsworth is a young English woman that comes from a prosperous family in the late 1880s. She is also apprenticing under her Uncle Jonathan in his forensic lab, dissecting cadavers and analyzing the manner of death, a entirely unsuitable for a young woman of her status. When a string of brutally murdered women are brought into her uncle's laboratory, Audrey Rose is wrenched into an investigation of what - or who - could have caused these vicious killings. Inspired by the real-life unsolved case of the Jack the Ripper killings, with some chapters prefaced by grim period photographs of the time, Maniscalco tells a fictional tale of who was the true monster that was Jack the Ripper and of a woman who tracked him down.
Spoilers ahead. I want to start off by addressing my main criticism of the book, and that was the predictability of who Jack the Ripper was in this story. Initially, I thought that the Ripper was going to be a love interest of Audrey Rose, and the book's back cover quote was certainly leading to that conclusion: "I was the girl who loved The Ripper." However, after Thomas Creswell was introduced as the secondary lead and potential love interest of Audrey Rose, I firmly excluded him off my list of suspects for the Ripper's identity, despite the slightly antagonist relationship and he and Audrey Rose share throughout the book. I did not align with Audrey Rose's occasional beliefs and remarks of Thomas's involvement in the murders that were occurring throughout the city; he seemed too straight-laced of a character, and while he was crass and sometimes tactless in his exchanges with other characters, he appeared to care primarily for catching the killer through science and ensuring Audrey Rose's safety. Maniscalco offered other alternatives for viable suspects, and while some of them seemed compelling, it was quickly apparent who the true killer was: Nathaniel, Audrey Rose's brother.
"I was the girl who loved The Ripper." Not in love with, but loved. This difference in emphasis hit me near the middle of the book, specifically when Audrey Rose began noting small, incriminating details about Nathaniel, such as when she noted dark circles under his eyes and sweat permeating his forehead; she chalked it up to the stress of their father being sent to a rehabilitation facility after abusing drugs, but it had to be because Nathaniel was suffering sleepless nights out murdering women. Despite the predictable nature of the twist, having Nathaniel be the Ripper and witnessing Aubrey Rose's subsequent reaction opened up an avenue of questions that I have frequently thought about when consuming any true crime media: what goes through the minds of family members after it is revealed that their relative is a killer?
I loved traversing through the streets of the Whitechapel district in London with Aubrey Rose, investigating the crimes alongside her and Thomas. Maniscalco captures the scenery beautifully as she leads us down the routes that Aubrey Rose visits in her quest. I visited London a handful of times but never ventured into the Whitechapel district or any location of the murders, yet Maniscalo's prose was able to place me alongside Aubrey Rose, allowing me to vicariously experience the sights, sounds, and smells of late 19th century London and the fear surrounding the Jack the Ripper killings.
Aubrey Rose is a force to be reckoned with as a character, and I really enjoyed reading through her inner thoughts, ambitions, and quarrels that she confronts herself with. An incredible firm feminist, we constantly are faced with her resistance to feminine ideals for the time, disgusted with how women were expected to conduct themselves in public and how they were restricted from aspiring to do more than learn to sew, engage in gossip, and marry. This was radical for her time, and I kept being confronted with the fact that this was not part of the fiction in this piece. This behavior is what was socially acceptable to be a proper lady in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, and it is infuriating to know that there were points in history where women themselves believed that their existence was solely meant to submit to their husbands. That being said, Aubrey Rose did seem a little 'holier than thou' when it came to comparing her intellect and wit to the women around her - even though she is extraordinarily smart! This made Liza's character, who I adored in this book, seem miniscule in Aubrey Rose's eyes until later in the text, when Aubrey Rose realized (with Liza's aid) that there were was to reconcile femininity with independence.
The investigation that occurred throughout the novel really enthralled me, and it was fascinating to be able to see Aubrey Rose, Thomas, and Uncle Jonathan studying the crime scenes through the lens of both a criminologist and a detective, since there are points where both fields appeared to intertwine. Many observations made about the women's causes of death and how they had been killed/placed at the crime scene reminded me of the show Criminal Minds and how the show's FBI profilers would take criminals' behaviors into consideration when attempting to figure out the identity of their suspect. I have always enjoyed media that delved into the psychoanalysis of people, and applying this to the mind of a criminal has always been a morbid fascination of mine. I had predicted the identity of Maniscalco's Ripper early on, but it was still thrilling to try and follow the protagonists' leads and tie together clues that cropped up.
The unsolved case of Jack the Ripper has always been of interest to me. This book instantly caught my eye and managed to suck me into its pages despite my reservations, as I initially believed that it would be either a historical recap or romance-heavy novel. It was neither of those, instead featuring a scientific and anatomical approach to uncover the identity of this famous killer. The Ripper was relatively quick to be revealed here, but Kerri Maniscalco does a marvelous job at bringing me to Victorian London in the wake of his terror.