Heather's Reviews > What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James & Jack the Ripper

What Alice Knew by Paula Marantz Cohen
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's review
Aug 15, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: arc, historical-fiction, victorian, england, 19th-c
Read from August 15 to 24, 2010

What initially caught my attention about this book was the subject of Jack the Ripper. I have always been intrigued by this story and have watched a show recently on this subject and I knew I had to read this author’s take on the crime. I didn’t really know much about the James family, but I figured I would learn as I went along.

One of the things that the author did that really made the book come to life was the use and understanding of the local language. You could certainly tell the difference in whether the character was from the upper or lower class just through her word choices. This technique made the characters more realistic. At the same time, you had characters from all walks of life involved in this story. You had the James family and all of their cohorts at dinner parties and various functions, including artist John Singer Sargent, author Oscar Wilde, and assorted others. Not only did you get a crime/mystery story, but you also got a glimpse of the art world, literary world and acting world. You were really able to see the world as someone, like Henry or William James, would have – from the seedy, back alley to the posh, dining rooms.

In terms of the investigation into the White Chapel Murders and Jack the Ripper, I think the best way to describe it, was like a Victorian version of CSI. You learned who some suspects were, tried to collect evidence and use the science they had at the time to interpret that evidence, witnesses were questioned, documents examined, and much more. Theories were thrown around and the author provides a fictional theory to who the killer may have been – but nothing was set in stone, much like the real story of Jack the Ripper. I love crime shows, so this book was perfect. To top it all off, the ending really made you think about all of the facts you thought you knew from the story, and really consider what you believed.

Overall, this book was a hit for me. The pages just flew by and I never wanted to put it down. It now had reignited my interest in the Ripper story.

This book was received for review from the publisher - I was not compensated for my opinions and the above is my honest review.
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08/17/2010 page 98
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