This is a highly anticipated book for the winter. It's already gone straight to acronym status: SJTR! AEITA! DFTBA! SONAR! NORAD! Look, I can barely remember most people's names most of the time, so all this acronym stuff does not help. However, the acronymization of a title is indicative of hype, especially in the YA book world.
So, the burning question is: does this book live up to the hype?
My answer would be that it depends on what you're looking for. I didn't realize until I got my eARC that this book is published by James Patterson's new imprint, Jimmy Patterson. Obviously, if you have no feelings one way or the other about Mr. Patterson, this won't matter to you. But as a librarian, I very definitely have thoughts about this, and those thoughts, being negative in nature, made me doubt before I even began. However, I determined to give this a fighting chance. Unfortunately, it didn't fight very hard.
Noticing the publisher, or even the imprint, isn't something most teens really care about. However, knowing which imprint a book comes from gives me, as a professional, a sense of what kind of story there's going to be, what the appeal is, who their target audience is, etc. Having had the misfortune of reading some of James Patterson's earlier mysteries, as well as one Maximum Ride novel, I expected short chapters, an emphasis on plot speed over anything else, and horrific inaccuracies.
I got all of that, and then some. However, if you are looking for a quick read and really don't care that no one seems to have fact checked this book, or that the teens of this Victorian London speak like teens today, then I'm sure you and Stalking Jack the Ripper will be very happy together. I wish you joy. The joy that I did not experience while reading this book.
Fine, so I'm awful at being gracious, too. Here's the deal: you can like whatever you want and read whatever you want. But I will not stand for this being presented as a historical mystery when it flouts, in every way, the rules of its historical setting.
Also, I guessed the bad guy after the first few chapters, so I'm not sure about the mystery aspect either.
So, with all of that chit-chat, let's get to the book. Courage, dear readers! And spoilers ahoy!
Audrey Rose Wadsworth is beautiful, rich, of good breeding, and she just loves being elbow-deep in viscera. Her uncle, Dr. Jonathan Wadsworth, is a brilliant doctor of forensic medicine, a relatively nascent science in the late 1880s. Instead of learning the latest dances or practicing her etiquette, Audrey Rose spends the majority of her time under her uncle's tutelage, which mainly consists of him being rude and/or slightly unhinged. Her father, Lord Edmund, is slowly losing his grip on reality after the death of his wife, and the involvement of his brother. Audrey Rose knows that as a good society girl, she really shouldn't be learning how to perform a postmortem examination, or sneak into her uncle's classes disguised as a boy. But she does anyway, because that's what Spunky Heroines do, goshdarnit!
I feel that I am quickly going to tire of typing "Audrey Rose" every time I refer to the main character. What an unwieldy name.
In her uncle's university class, she meets a gorgeous yet infuriating boy (of course she does), who is also her uncle's secret apprentice/protégé. His name is Thomas, and his main role in this book is to make vaguely sexual innuendos and other flirtatious remarks, as well as distract A.R. from her mystery solving.
Yes, for in addition to being the next Carl Liman of forensic pathology, Audrey Rose is also some sort of Victorian Nancy Drew, tootling around Whitechapel, trying to solve these new, gruesome murders that her uncle believes were committed by the same person.
The basic plot is that Audrey Rose sneaks out of her house a lot to run around Jack the Ripper's haunts, all the while telling herself that she's going undercover. Then she gets scared. Then Thomas shows up and saves her. Then her brother, Nathaniel, the dilettante, saunters in and acts horrified at what she's doing. Then another woman is killed. Audrey Rose ends up suspecting literally every single person except for the rather obvious murderer. At least, I thought it was obvious. It's right at the beginning of the book, presented in a way that screams "SUPER SUSPICIOUS STUFF RIGHT OVER HERE!!! HELLOOOOOO!!!!"
So this all goes on until Audrey Rose, naturally, catches the killer. Quite by accident, as it happens. He is engaged in Nefarious Deeds, the likes of which Doctor Victor Frankenstein would enjoy. I honestly cannot believe that this is being picked up as a series. Who is she going to investigate next? How many serial killers can one aristocratic young lady know?
Honestly, the plot isn't anything different from the basic Ripper story. If this is your first time encountering Jack the Ripper, then it will probably be rather interesting--aside from the situations detailed in her author's note, the author does stay rather true to the case. And the Dear Boss letter never fails to give me the shivers. That's the only really historical part of this historical fiction. The rest is fantasy.
Stalking Jack the Ripper suffers greatly from highly modernized dialogue and character motivations, as well as a complete disregard for any social restrictions of the time period. In addition, the supposedly brilliant Audrey Rose has absolutely zero common sense. I have a positively obscene amount of notes and highlights in my e-copy of this, but I will restrain myself to citing only a few of the worst offenders.
Audrey Rose's motivation for stopping Leather Apron (Jack's first nickname) is to save the women he is violating. She gives this little speech about not tolerating the cruel treatment of poor, castoff women, and using her station in society to help them. Hooray, here comes the benevolent rich lady to save the prostitutes! She swans around Whitechapel in fine black dresses, reasoning that the color will help her blend into the background, but not considering that the cut and tailoring of her garments mark her as an aristocrat, woefully out of place among the taverns and shadowy doorways and gutters full of excrement.
The author has also chosen to make Audrey Rose's deceased mother of Indian descent, for diversity, I suppose. From a quick search, it seems that marriages between British men and Indian women declined sharply in the second half of the 19th century. The British East India Company was dissolved before her birth, and being Anglo-Indian certainly would not be fashionable to the straight-laced, protocol-obsessed Victorians.
Audrey Rose possesses noble ideals, but the way she expresses them sounds like a contemporary teen, not a girl raised in the twilight of the reign of Queen Victoria. She remembers her mother telling her to be both "pretty and fierce," and then adds: "Just because I was a girl interested in a man's job didn't mean I needed to give up being girly." O-kay. She also objects to having a "babysitter," a word first documented as being used in the late 1930s. At the urging of her cousin, Audrey Rose accents her "exotic beauty" (gag me) with lots and lots of kohl around her eyes--again, not something a proper Victorian lady would have done. They were the queens of the no-makeup makeup look, not the smoky eye. That would come a bit later. A.R. describes a cat as "precious and cute," when "cute" still meant "clever" or "sharp-witted."
And please, don't even get me started on the silly relationship between Audrey Rose and Thomas.
I suppose it's simply too much to ask for a historical mystery that is both historically accurate and also a mystery. Would someone care to explain the hype for this? Because I simply do not understand it.
Circling back to the opening discussion of the imprint as well as Patterson's introduction to the book, I do think that Stalking Jack the Ripper would work for reluctant readers. But I believe that they deserve better. Patterson is equating "readable books" with "books that read quickly and don't give a fig about making a lot of sense." One does not need to sacrifice accuracy to achieve accessibility.
Please note that I received an ARC from the publisher and all quotes or reference are subject to change. Oh lord, let it be so.