Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Name of the Star (Shades of London #1)

I have a love-hate relationship with books about Jack the Ripper.  Sometimes they can be fascinating, and other times, the Jack appears as the token red-herring bad guy.

Thankfully, The Name of the Star is of the former category.

I haven't read a Maureen Johnson book since I was in high school and, out of curiousity, picked up The Key to the Golden Firebird.  I rarely read YA due to some sort of delusion that made me believe that it wasn't good literature (how I would school my former self!).  However, something about this book ... I just wanted to read it.  And I really liked it.

Flash forward ten years-ish.  I'm now a teen librarian who has slowly been falling down the Twitter rabbit hole.  Maureen Johnson's feed is hilarious, and I realized that she wrote a lot of other things besides Firebird.  One of them was a paranormal mystery series entitled Shades of London.  Being an anglophile and a mystery lover, I needed this.  I picked up the first one in the series: The Name of the Star.


Rory Deveaux, of Louisiana, ends up at a British boarding school in London called Wexford.  It's clash of the cultures in a cheekily fun way.  Rory gets introduced to uniforms, field hockey, refectory food, and her roomie, Jazza (which is such a British nickname that I just love it to death).  Also a pretty durn hot prefect for the boys named Jerome and a curiously punk-rock dude who hangs out in the library.

Unfortunately, the beginning of term coincides with a murder that suspiciously resembles the Ripper's first kill.  The victim's names are even similar.  And Wexford is dangerously close to the areas where crimes have been committed.  This throws Rory's newly-established routine into chaos as all of London proceeds to have a collective freak out.  The kicker?  All of the murders (following the Ripper's timeline) were committed in full view of CCTV cameras (and if you've ever been to London, you know they're everywhere).  One of the CCTV techs accesses the raw footage and witnesses a murder ... but no murderer.  The victim is reacting to violence dealt by someone who is invisible.

Meanwhile, Rory notices a strange man at one of the crime scenes and then later at Wexford.  He's definitely not dressed in late Victorian-era clothing, but something about him is just ... off.  Oh, and then there's the little matter of Jazza not seeing him.  Ever.

A few undercover police officers later, Rory finds out that she's part of a small group of people who can see ghosts, or shades (hence the series title).  This is generally caused by a brush with death--in Rory's case, she nearly choked to death in the refectory.  A small group of young people, all with the same abilities, are operating under the umbrella of Scotland Yard to try and track the killer, who is most definitely a ghost.  Only problem?  He's made it very clear that Rory is on his list.

Johnson deftly handles the Ripper material and updates it well.  She really has an ear for the British accent and Rory is just charming in a kind-of-dorky-but-not-really way.  She's kind of like an updated Mia Thermopolis sans royal lineage.  The mystery was really solid and kept me guessing, and I'm super excited to read the next books!

Two thumbs up for this one!

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