REVIEW: Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

2/5 stars — attempted feminism meets classism in an uncreative riff on several classics

This book isn’t sure what it wants to be. The love interest is a sad take on Sherlock Holmes, the twist is literally Frankenstein, and the main plot is obviously based on the infamous London serial killer Jack the Ripper. The themes are also all over the place: the main character seems to be an attempt at a progressive (for the time) heroine, but she ridicules other women incessantly; there are also false and frustrating religion vs. science and logic vs. emotion dichotomies made central to the narrative.

Main character Audrey Rose Wadsworth is a noblewoman living in Victorian London. Unlike other women of the time (more on this later) she is more interested in medical science than dresses and social events; at the encouragement of her love interest, she begins eschewing emotional reactions in favor of cold, logical examination of the corpses of brutally murdered women.

So. Where to begin? With how this book stabs wildly at feminism and misses the mark to a painful degree? With the token attempt at writing a character of color and then committing every sin available in that regard, from food-based skin-color descriptions to fridging the MC’s mother, the only character of color besides the MC? Or how about with the main character’s condescension toward lower-class women and how she feels it’s her responsibility as a member of the upper class to “save” them from prostitution and other such dire straits? How about the fact that all of this could have been executed well if the author presented it as a product of its time, but none of it is ever challenged? It’s a mess, folks.

I could go into more detail about each of these failings, but I think I’ve made my point. Here are a few relevant excerpts from my notes regarding these issues.

  • lots of identifying upper-class people by their “fine-boned” faces, etc.

  • strong “not like other girls” vibe; literally making fun of her peers for being interested in clothes and men when she thinks about the same stuff all the time

  • is this written by a white woman? I can’t imagine a mother from India lovingly referring to her daughter as “my dark flower.” Food descriptions for skin: “honey” for the mother, “honey with cream” for the half(?)-white daughter

  • the absolute most token POC representation; MC only thinks about her mother’s culture when she says she misses/wants various South Asian foods

  • MC does the frustrating “thinking I’m ugly while listing traditionally beautiful attributes” thing: laments how much she stands out for wearing black/dark colors and being soooo pale (what happened to being a POC??)

I don’t recommend Stalking Jack the Ripper or any of its sequels to anyone. Further, I advise readers to view any other novels by this author with a strongly critical eye. I’m frustrated because this book came highly recommended to me by several people whose book reviews I usually trust; I’m also annoyed that this was published in 2016, so there’s no excuse for *gestures at the whole book.*

Content warnings: extreme gore, violence aimed exclusively at women, smoking (glorified), opiate addiction, classism/paternalism