Book Review: Stalking Jack the Ripper

Stalking Jack the Ripper
 Kerri Maniscalco
Genre: Young Adult/Historical Fiction
Version: Hardback
Page Count: 326
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Synopsis: GoodReads
Notable Notables: Yay, feminism!
Recommended Readers: Gothic readers and fans of mystery with a dash of horror
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I have been on such a journey with Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco. When I first cracked open the book, I had low expectations, but it managed to surprised me with its keen heroine, Audrey Rose Wadsworth, and how delightfully descriptive it was with Victorian England’s way of handling cadavers. Throw in the Jack the Ripper mystery, and this was set to be a magnificent choice for Halloween-time reading.

But then things took a turn for the disappointing, and it all started with the introduction of Thomas Cresswell.

Before Thomas’ introduction–and indeed, whenever the boy wasn’t on the page–Audrey was an ambitious and interesting heroine. I adored her thirst for knowledge and the darker desires that came with it, how she had to struggle with boundaries, both within herself and with what was acceptable for her in society.

But then Thomas Cresswell came into the picture, and Audrey turned into a complete, bumbling idiot. Reading their interactions was painful because so much of it was forced and hammered into the reader. Audrey finds Thomas insufferable, oh, but he’s also very handsome. Audrey thinks Thomas is rude and inhuman, oh, but she loves the way he challenges her. Audrey thinks Thomas might be Jack the Ripper, oh, but she kind of wants to kiss him, society be damned.

But it’s not like she likes him or anything!

It’s doubly disappointing because Thomas Cresswell was clearly written with the intent to be a male character type that I actually adore: ambitious, intelligent, flirtatious, and a jerk about being all three. Instead, I found him to be completely annoying and immature, mainly because the banter between him and Audrey was a lot less clever than Maniscalco probably thought it was.

In fact, the dialogue throughout the book was the main problem, and the reason why my previously high opinion of the novel dropped the further I read. Maniscalco’s descriptions and general prose were beyond enjoyable to read. I was happy she wasn’t afraid to highlight the more gory elements of her murder mystery, and the overall tone of it all was delightfully Victorian. But for some reason, the majority of her dialogue was extremely clunky, particularly anytime Audrey talked to her brother, Nathaniel, or Thomas. These two men were especially so desperate to always get the last word that I usually had to endure two or three “explanations” or one-liners in a row before they’d finally shut up. It was like a Family Guy skit that goes on for too long, except less offensive.

Then, there was the matter of feminism. I am a huge feminist. I identified with the sentiment behind the term long before I ever knew there was a term for it. Stalking Jack the Ripper is obviously intended as a feminist book, what with Audrey attempting to become part-coroner, part-forensic scientist in a time where women could barely do anything besides marrying into a good family–and I’m not saying it doesn’t succeed at being feminist.

It just hits you over the head with it every chance it gets, in an extremely anachronistic way. After a while, the author’s attempts become far less impressive, the main character’s view point less interesting, and it just sort of wears on you. Particularly when the only real obstacle standing in Audrey’s way to pursue her career was her father; no one else in society, except for nameless, faceless male characters, seemed to give a damn.

Then, there was the reveal of who Jack the Ripper was itself. Audrey becomes stuck on the possibility that her father is Jack the Ripper with extremely flimsy “evidence” to support this theory, to the point where she starts obsessing over the idea as the only possible outcome, and it was just…ridiculous? Up until this point, she and her father had an interesting and complicated relationship, and her willingness to believe that her own father is a serial killer felt completely unreal; instead of feeling horror at the prospect, most of the time she seemed completely gung-ho about it–almost removed from the situation. Her reactions just didn’t make sense. And then when the Ripper was revealed at last, the story took a turn from being a decently gothic horror mystery and became completely absurd. I could not take the last few chapters or Audrey’s sudden leave of intelligence seriously.

Despite all of this, I still give Stalking Jack the Ripper three stars due to the strength of the prose alone and because I’m apparently a sucker for dark, creepy reads. I’ve also heard that the sequel, Hunting Prince Dracula, is a much stronger novel. It’ll have to be, because while my expectations were low for a Jack the Ripper book, they will definitely skyrocket for a Dracula book. I love Vlad Tepes and his vampire counterpart too much to let any nonsense slide, so I hope Maniscalco will bring her A-game for this.

Otherwise, I’ll definitely be giving up on this series.

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