Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco is a deliciously creepy horror novel that has a storyline inspired by the Ripper murders and an unexpected, blood-chilling conclusion (Available September 20, 2016).
In May of last year, Hachette Book Group announced the launch of a new children’s imprint, JIMMY Patterson Books, as a part of thriller master James Patterson’s initiatives to encourage kids to become life-long readers. Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco is both the first novel Mr. Patterson acquired and the first YA novel for the imprint—and it does not disappoint.
When we first meet Audrey Rose Wadsworth, she’s in the midst of slicing open a corpse in her uncle’s laboratory. It’s August of 1888, and this is not an activity that women of that age are normally engaged in—especially when they are only 17 and have yet to come out to society. This is the perfect introduction, however, to the bright young protagonist and her very independent and fearless ways. I love how Maniscalco uses strong visual imagery throughout to further highlight that fearlessness as well:
Rumors of Bedlam being haunted by monsters were true.
At least, they felt real enough as we moved swiftly down cold, stone corridors. I held fast to my silky skirts, keeping them as close to my body as I could while walking by cells of criminals and the insane.
Arms stuck out like tree branches, searching for things to root themselves to. Or perhaps they were searching for a way out of this dank hell. Blackburn did not hold on to me or offer his arm, trusting I could fend for myself in this abysmal place.
Audrey Rose is infinitely curious, especially about science. She has a poor relationship with her father—he’s grown distant since her mother’s death—so she seeks out her uncle, Dr. Jonathan Wadsworth, who is a professor and forensic scientist. The next time we encounter her, she’s disguised as a male pupil in order to attend one of her uncle’s lectures. The subject of the lesson is a woman who’s been brutally murdered, her most notable wound being the slashing of her throat. Students of true crime history might recognize her name, Mary Ann Nichols, a victim of the infamous Jack the Ripper.
It is in this lecture that she meets another apprentice of Dr. Wadsworth, Thomas—a very handsome yet very irritating boy who assists the professor with police cases in the lab. Audrey Rose and Thomas team up to help out her uncle when he’s called to assist the police with solving the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, and events escalate as more bodies, each more cut up than the last, continue to appear all over London.
This novel is certainly an interesting twist on the old unsolved case of Jack the Ripper, perhaps the most interesting and most speculated about unsolved murders in history. This could have been a boring rehash of the same events that many novels and documentaries have covered, but as an avid reader of Jack the Ripper lore, I feel that Maniscalco has added a fresh new take by showing us the story through young eyes. Gruesome depictions of autopsies and crimes scenes mean this one isn’t for everyone, but I feel that the author handles them in an intelligent and educational way while also using them to highlight Audrey Rose’s fascination with science and her courage to face the worst.
“What you’re about to see is rather unpleasant,” Mr. Doyle warned, staring at me in particular. “Especially for a young lady.”
I smiled, leaning over the desk and used the sweetest tone I could muster.
“In my spare time I flay open bodies of the deceased. Two of whom were victims of Leather Apron. The scent that hung in the room would drop a man to his knees, and I aided my uncle during the postmortems while standing in gelled blood.” I sat back in my chair, the leather squeaking its own disapproval. “Whatever you have to show us won’t be too much for my stomach to handle, I assure you.”
Teens of today will identify with Audrey Rose, as she constantly flouts society’s rules and clashes with her strict father. She’s very close with her brother Nathaniel, and we get to see a budding friendship between Audrey Rose and her cousin Liza that sheds more light on the expectations of women in late 19th-century London. Audrey Rose is constantly questioning everything, not just in her study of the sciences, but also in human nature and in social requirements—an activity I think many young adults can empathize with.
I’m very much hoping that young readers of Stalking Jack the Ripper will be inspired by Audrey Rose’s courage, tenacity, and insatiable curiosity. This is an excellent introduction to historical events that shaped the forensic sciences. The author’s note at the end outlines some of the actual historical events, and reproductions of photographs from the time period as well as Jack the Ripper’s letters lend authenticity to the story.
While this might be a book for young adults, it’s certainly not for the squeamish! Any fan of true crime or detective stories will find much to appreciate here.
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Ardi Alspach was born in Florida, raised in South Carolina, and now resides in New York City with her cat and an apartment full of books. By day, she's a publicist, and by night, she's a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @ardyceelaine or check out her website at ardyceelaine.wordpress.com.