Goodreads: Stalking Jack the Ripper
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper #1
Groomed to be the perfect highborn Victorian young lady, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has a decidedly different plan for herself. After the loss of her beloved mother, she is determined to understand the nature of death and its workings. Trading in her embroidery needle for an autopsy scalpel, Audrey secretly apprentices in forensics. She soon gets drawn into the investigation of serial killer Jack the Ripper, but to her horror, the search for clues bringers her far closer to her sheltered world than she ever thought possible.
Stalking Jack the Ripper takes readers to Victorian England, where protagonist Audrey Rose is learning forensics and flaunting all societal standards. While the premise of the novel is a unique one, and Maniscalco has put clear effort into creating a world where people dabble with dark deeds and death to write a YA novel that stands out from the crowd, I ultimately thought the plot lagged.
Maniscalco takes an unsolved mystery and puts her own spin on it, but I found the solution to the mystery too obvious to guess too early in the novel, which was disappointing. There are a limited number of characters in the book to begin with, and both the jacket summary and the snippet on the back of the hardcover give even more painfully broad hints. Once you note this and account for some popular mystery tropes, it’s not difficult to tie everything together. I would have liked a more surprising outcome, or at least more of a puzzle. I also didn’t believe the Jack the Ripper character had particularly believable motivations or actions in many circumstances.
Beyond the mystery, the novel focuses on the life and personal development of protagonist Audrey Rose. The book jacket calls her a “remarkably modern Victorian girl,” and that’s apt, so modern it’s nearly grating and definitely anachronistic. I understand a lot of readers like anachronism; they want YA historical fiction heroines who break from the mold and do things they would not have actually been able to do in the time period. However, Maniscalco simply takes things too far. Audrey Rose does not only do remarkably modern things; she won’t stop explicitly stating how progressive she is! The book is speckled with multiple direct remarks about how men cannot control her, how she refuses to dress properly, how she wants women to have rights, how she has her own mind, how women are the same as men, ad nauseum. She has some decent points, but she won’t stop proclaiming them. She can’t even put on makeup without thinking,
“I dreamed of a day when girls could wear lace and makeup—or no makeup at all and don burlap sacks if they desired—to their chosen profession without it being deemed inappropriate” (25).
Or attend an afternoon tea without assuming all the other girls must be like her and want to talk about exciting, manly, scientific things:
“As the afternoon wore on, I watched them, noting the role they were all playing. I doubted any of them truly cared about what they were saying and felt immensely sorry for them. Their minds were crying out to be set free, but they refused to unbind them” (149).
Indeed, she is disappointed to learn they might actually be interested in the silly conversations they are having…yet remarks multiple times that of course she is allowed to be interested in both fashion and science! To think they are mutually exclusive would be absurd!
Basically, I tired of Audrey Rose early on, and none of the other characters saved the novel for me. I have seen other readers swooning over the love interest, but to me the romance was too quick and forced; I didn’t feel any real spark or chemistry. Audrey Rose and Thomas seem primarily to have their love of examining cadavers in common, and the fact that Thomas never bats at eye at all the supposedly scandalous things Audrey Rose does. Indeed, I would have liked to see someone be scandalized because Audrey Rose seems to be all talk on this front; she continuously points out how she’s breaking social conventions and destroying her reputation, but hardly anyone seems to notice or care. That makes it less believable and makes her seem less brave.
I almost DNFed this but carried on simply because I felt I could get through the book quickly, which ended up being true. My standard for books I want to DNF is two stars, so that’s what this is getting. Again, the concept is unique, and I think it could have been really great for a dark YA historical fiction, but never in the novel really worked for me.
17 thoughts on “Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco”
Bleh, this sounds awful. I dislike a heroine from the 21st century tossed into the past. It’s unrealistic. I recommend Sally Cabot Gunning’s The Widow’s War. That heroine seemed true to her place in history, and therefore more realistically courageous. Also, why does every historical fiction with a female protagonist fray into a love story? I do enjoy a love story, but not if it takes over the plot and becomes the focus of the heroine’s journey.
Yes! You can be kind of progressive for your time, but not so much it’s unrealistic. Also, yeah, historical fiction seems this have a huge overlap with romance.
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There have been so many review books I have wanted to DNF, but knew my negative remarks would be challenged on Goodreads with readers saying, “But you didn’t read the whole thing.” Ha ha.
So true! I think DNF reviews are completely valid as long as you read a decent portion of the book. Oftentimes things that I dislike in the beginning of the book are things that occur throughout the book, and if the first 60% of a book is boring, even an exciting ending can’t really save the book as a whole.
You totally put into words how I felt about Audrey and her progressive thoughts!
Sometimes I feel like an outlier because I’ve seen a lot of readers saying they LOVE when historical fiction characters have modern-day beliefs because they can’t stand reading about people who come across as sexist, racist, etc. by today’s standards. However, I think there’s a line where you can make a character progressive for their time and still realistic, without crossing over that line into making it sound like you plunked someone from 2017 into a different century. Plus Audrey just really harps on her beliefs.
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I completely agree. The historical inaccuracy bothers me in certain books, especially if the characters are obtuse about their “progressive” ideals.
Yikes! This sounds like an annoying read! I’ve always been interested in Jack the Ripper, but I think I’ll skip this one. Sounds like the author was trying to “force” her heroine into the Victorian age, and I’ll stick with my Anne Perry mysteries!
Oddly enough, I enjoyed this book so much 🙂 I wasn’t bothered by her progressiveness (but she is annoying). I enjoyed the plot as a whole. I liked the mystery, I liked the Gothic feel of the whole book. Plus, that opening scene killed it. Pun intended.
Ah yes I can see why this didn’t work- it’s really irritating when books like this forgo reality to write a modern 21st century woman. Here’s an idea, if the author wants to write a modern progressive woman, why not write a contemporary? (it’s funny cos I just had a conversation about historical novels being inaccurate- and what they were describing was how a book with real historical figures had magic in it and was not accurate at all- and I was just thinking why not make it up and write fantasy for that? So maybe that’s why I might be being a bit harsh, but still…) Great review!!
That is truly too bad. This is on my TBR and I am almost tempted to remove it because you have pointed out flaws that will surely hinder my experience. Yet I cannot help but want to take a look 😉 I have to ask, was the name Audrey Rose intentional on the author’s part (as in the novel)? Wonderful review!
I’ve seen tons of good reviews, but it definitely was not my taste. I have no idea how the author picked the name!
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It instantly took my to the novel Aubrey Rose when I saw it. I will leave it shelved for now 😉
Oh dear. This is in my TBR pile, too. :S I think I’ll still read it when I get to it, but I won’t get my hopes up too high.
I’ve seen a lot of positive reviews for it, so it has fans! I’m just not one of them, unfortunately.
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I’m sorry to hear this was so disappointing! The idea seems promising, but I think the things that bothered you would bother me too.
I’d heard such good things about it, and the autopsy element is unique, but, yeah, I didn’t enjoy reading it. 😦