I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Crooked Lane Books on January 10, 2017
Genres: Crime Fiction, Mystery
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The year is 1888 and Jack the Ripper begins his reign of terror.
Miss Sarah Bain, a photographer in Whitechapel, is an independent woman with dark secrets. In the privacy of her studio, she supplements her meager income by taking illicit “boudoir photographs” of the town’s local ladies of the night. But when two of her models are found gruesomely murdered within weeks of one another, Sarah begins to suspect it’s more than mere coincidence.
Teamed with a motley crew of friends–including a street urchin, a gay aristocrat, a Jewish butcher and his wife, and a beautiful young actress–Sarah delves into the crime of the century. But just as she starts unlocking the Ripper’s secrets, she catches the attention of the local police, who believe she knows more than she’s revealing, as well as from the Ripper himself, now bent on silencing her and her friends for good.
Caught in the crosshairs of a ruthless killer, Sarah races through Whitechapel’s darkest alleys to find the truth…until she makes a shocking discovery that challenges everything she thought she knew about the case. Intelligent and utterly engrossing, Laura Joh Rowland’s Victorian mystery The Ripper’s Shadow will keep readers up late into the night.
I’m a little bit of a crime documentary nut, and serial killers are a particular favorite intrigue of mine. So I was immediately curious on this take on the father of serial killers, Jack the Ripper, especially once I learned that the protagonist of Laura Joh Rowland’s The Ripper’s Shadow was female.
I’ve actually been on a Victorian lady detective streak recently, but if Sarah Bain, the protagonist of this story, is not quite as intrepid or daring as the ones I’ve been following (she doesn’t know how to throw knives, and she doesn’t wield a reinforced parasol like a fencing master), she is certainly no less intelligent and is in possession of a grittier, more realistic outlook and personality. I mean realistic in terms of my understanding of what it would have been like to be a female in Victorian London, and not the nicest parts of it either. And I also mean realistic in terms of her acquaintance with life’s practicalities and the fickleness of fortune—she doesn’t exhibit the irascible optimism of Amelia Peabody or Veronica Speedwell, nor does she suffer from their perishing curiosity. Instead, she is driven by personal responsibility and the need to protect women who, if acquaintances rather than friends, she feels duty-bound to do her best for.
As for the mystery of Jack the Ripper himself, I found myself following the twists and turns Sarah and her not-quite-merry band of outcasts took through the course of the story. Both the intrigue level and the stakes as far as the characters were concerned jacked up (pardon the pun) in the last part of the book, especially the final quarter. At times I found myself almost too impatient to read to the bottom of a page before turning to the next one, which is always a great thing to say about any suspenseful mystery.
I think the only thing that disappointed me about this read was the hint of a romance, which I found both hard to fathom and hard to get behind, not to mention completely unnecessary to my enjoyment of the story. As a reader of romance, I felt that it should’ve been given an all-or-nothing commitment, and I felt this aspect of the story a bit half-hearted, considering the hero was rather less than heroic through most of the novel, and while there was certainly tension between him and Sarah, I felt that this tension didn’t really translate into convincing attraction.
That being said, if you’re looking to read about murder and mayhem rather than hearts and roses, this is certainly an excellent read. I was quite thoroughly immersed in it, and at times while reading I would look up and wonder that bright blue skies instead of Victorian London’s overcast and smog were above me.
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