Mystery Series Week is coming to a close, so I've got to tell y'all about my latest read: Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco.
I know, I know! This one has been out for a WHILE, and I'm totally late to the party. But I'm here now and so glad about it!
Genre: Teen/YA Mystery
Category: Spooky Read
Want to know more about how we categorize books? See our Glossary for details.
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audrey Rose is surrounded by men. After the loss of her mother, she lives at home with her older brother and over-protective father. When she manages to sneak out, she spends time with her her uncle, dissecting cadavers and studying forensic science. Then there's Thomas Cresswell, a brilliant yet infuriating student learning under Audrey Rose's uncle. When a series of brutalized female bodies start cropping up and clues start pointing to the men in her life, Audrey Rose must use her intelligence to discover which is the murderer while proving that women are just as capable—sometimes more so––than men.
"Why must I either be docile and decent, or curious and wretched? I was a decent girl, even if I spent my spare time reading about science theories and dissecting the dead?"
Stalking Jack the Ripper was a practically perfect first read for October and to kick off Mystery Series Week. The atmosphere was just what I was craving while the plot had the right level of gore for someone who's a bit on the squeamish side. I was hooked from the opening scene. The characters, complicated family dynamics, and Audrey's struggles kept me reading past my bedtime.
One of the main complaints I saw about this book in reviews was that it wasn't complex enough, but I anticipated that since it was published through a teen house and this was Maniscalco's first novel. You can't expect perfect right out the gate.
That said, there are a few things that could be improved upon (and I am hoping they will as the plot and Audrey's character are developed), but I highly enjoyed reading this book.
I saw this book described as Jack the Ripper meets Sherlock Holmes meets Frankenstein, and I feel like it's a very apt description.
Audrey Rose must use her intelligence and forensic knowhow to solve the mystery of who the killer is. This scientific angle lends gruesomeness to the story without making it too gory. Photos and copies of letters scattered throughout the book enhance the reading experience, making it feel like you're there with Audrey Rose.
While she isn't perfect, I do like Audrey Rose as a character and appreciate her multitudes. She's intelligent AND beautiful, girly AND gore-loving. She hates being told what to do (or how to do it) and is constantly challenging the sexist behaviors and remarks of the men around her. At every turn, she tries to prove the men wrong with her strength and skill.
"What is a man's soul made of that a woman's is not?"
Speaking of men, I have two words for you: Thomas Cresswell.
Do I have a new book boyfriend? Why yes, yes I do.
Cresswell is a forensics student studying under Audrey Rose's uncle. He is acutely aware of his Sherlock-level brilliance, making him all the more frustrating and irresistible to Audrey Rose. Cue the slow-burn, rivals-to-lovers tropes we cannot get enough of.
On top of his big brain and good looks, Thomas is not your average YA "alphahole." Unlike most of the males in the book, Thomas is appreciative of Audrey Rose's intelligence yet gentle when he handles her. While he can emotionally detach with the flip of a switch and can be an ass at times, he never does so to be cruel or superior. He is just genuinely not good at people-ing.
Luckily, he has Audrey Rose to tell him when he's being a jerk, and she has him to hone her skills and street smarts. They honestly make a perfect pair.
"You can't apply mathematical formulas to people, Cresswell. There's no equation for human emotion, there are too many variables."
"True. I've found no formula I can work out for certain . . . emotions I feel around you." [. . .] "Anyway. You simply need to know where to look for the questions. An easy mathematical formula applied to Homo sapiens. And behold! Science reigns over nature once more. No emotions needed."
I saw an argument online that his character should have been female, as 75% of the main characters are men. I agree this would have been an awesome twist, but I also get that it made more sense for him to be male for his education and job, especially since in the end he uses these to sway Audrey Rose's father into letting her attend a forensics school abroad.
Part of me really wanted him to be the killer. It would have added so much nuance to the story. Alas, I knew it couldn't be him because the other books are already out, and I knew he was in them. However, I did like Maniscalco's choice of villain, even if it may have been a bit obvious to some. The reveal was emotional and somewhat horrifying, and my heart broke for Audrey Rose.
"Seeing the truth was never easy, especially when it revealed those closest to us could be monsters hidden in plain sight."
If you hadn't guessed already, Audrey Rose is not like other girls––and she is going to make sure you know it! While there is a level of feminism to this book, I was disappointed that most of Audrey Rose's inner monologue compared herself to other women. Her "differences" overshadowed the other female characters in the book, and none of them had major roles or shined. I understand this is a period piece and sexism was even more rampant in 19th century London, but I was hoping to see other women celebrated. There are a couple instances where you see some rebelliousness within Audrey Rose's cousin Liza, but that's about it.
There is mention of a grandmother in India who seems to be fiery, but like with Liza, there are only a handful of lines. I wish there had been more relevance or significance to Audrey Rose's Indian heritage; it would have been a great way to add another element of rebellion to her character while tackling colonialism and conformity.
My last kinda-complaint about this novel is that Audrey Rose did little to solve the mystery. I say "kinda" because I understand the time period and social climate limited her. But she was largely helped by men and even required saving a time or two. That said, she was tenacious in tracking down and following every lead she came across, even if it seemed a bit woo-woo.
Stalking Jack the Ripper is a fun, highly enjoyable and atmospheric read that is perfect for spookytime, young readers, and anyone who likes the macabre but doesn't like too much gore. Because it's aimed at a younger audience, there's an almost childish vibe to it, but this by no means ruins the book. Even my handful of complaints do little to make me dislike the character, story, or author's style.
I have high hopes that the rest of the series proves to be more complex. I enjoyed reading it so much that I wanted to immediately purchase the sequel (especially since it involves Dracula!), but I must tend to the rest of my TBR first. I don't want my other books thinking I don't love them!
If you're thinking Stalking Jack the Ripper might be up your alley, grab a copy for yourself here! If you've already read it, let me know what you though in the comments below, or on bookstagram or Twitter!