Kara's Reviews > Ripper

Ripper by Stefan Petrucha
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May 03, 12

Read from April 25 to May 01, 2012

As seen on: Bookosaur

4.5/5

This book is bloody fantastic. See what I did there? Bloody fantastic, since it's a novel about Jack the Ripper?

. . . Oh, hey. I didn't expect you to continue reading after my word play there. Your persistence could only mean one thing: you really want to read a review. Alright, alright . . .

I loved this book to pieces.

. . . You're still here? Seriously? Even after that one? Though I have many more of those bad boys up my sleeve, I will nonetheless crack on with my review. (Eh? Eh? Novel about detectives? Okay, truly, I think I'm done.)

I didn't know what to expect when I started Ripper by Stefan Petrucha, save for the fact that the cover is brilliant. Indeed, the cover was the main reason why I picked up this novel to read in the first place, thinking that, with a cover like that, this novel had no choice but to be fantastic. Admittedly, not a foolproof theory, as I've fallen victim to the Cover Trap before and selected books based on their cover only to regret my decision later. With Ripper, however, I was not disappointed.

The reader is transported to New York City at the turn of the century. The year is 1895, and a Jack the Ripper-like serial killer is on the loose. The murders have the same MO as Saucy Jack: the victims are found mutilated and the bodies are left in places where they will be easily found, just so the killer can show off his handiwork. The only difference with these murders in comparison to their London counterparts is the target: the NYC killer is murdering upper class women. The city is, understandably, on edge. To make matters worse, the city's police force is rife with corruption and scandal; however, Theodore Roosevelt, the new police commissioner, has made it his personal mission to change the police force's seedy reputation.

As an aspiring detective, 14-year-old Carver Young has been following the murders in NYC from the orphanage where he lives. When Carver finds a puzzling letter in his file written by his biological father, Carver, with the help of the New Pinkertons, a secret detective agency, embarks on the greatest case of his young life - discovering his father's identity. Before long, Carver's personal search for his father becomes intertwined with the hunt for the serial killer and it becomes obvious that Carver is the only person who can put a stop to the vicious murders.

This book has all the right elements to send a deliciously creepy shiver down one's spine. First of all, the time period. Oh, how I love novels set in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Petrucha's descriptions are so vivid that I could practically hear the sounds of Old New York City: the horses' hooves clopping on the cobblestone, a black carriage following dutifully behind; the excited, boisterous voice of Teddy Roosevelt as he leans out of a window of the Mulberry Street Police Headquarters yelling "Yieee!" to attract the attention of the press on Newspaper Row; and the voices of the newsboys shouting, "Extra! Extra! Killer Strikes Again!" or "Extra! Extra! Devil in Manhattan!" or whatever headline the Times and the Journal had cooked up to boost sales for that day's newspaper. (Confession: Thanks to Disney's Newsies , a musical based on the 1899 Newsboys Strike in NYC, I was a little disappointed every time a newsboy was mentioned without some sort of mid-air punch and crotch-thrusting dance movement associated with them in the same sentence. For your viewing pleasure, the mid-air punch can be seen at around 2:23 and the crotch thrust can be enjoyed at 2:39 in the video I've linked to directly above.)

Secondly, the setting. Most of the action takes place in two different places: (1) the secret headquarters of the New Pinkertons, hidden beneath Devlin's department store and accessed only by a secret combination; and (2) Blackwell Island, home to the Blackwell Penitentiary and Asylum where "the doctors are as mad as the patients" (p. 72). I did say deliciously creepy, didn't I? Throw in an orphanage, police headquarters, city-run jails nicknamed The Tombs, the streets of NYC, and Ellis Island, and we've got ourselves one heck of a backdrop.

Thirdly, what really made this book for me is the characters. Ripper has one of the best collection of characters I've come across since The Shadow of the Wind . Carver Young is a resourceful young man who finds himself adopted by Albert Hawking, a retired Pinkerton detective who lives on Blackwell Island studying the criminally insane and who lives by the philosophy of becoming mad to find the mad, a thief to catch a thief, and worse (p. 80). Hawking becomes Carver's mentor and helps Carver track down his real father, but, at times, it seems that Hawking is as mad as the inmates he studies. Also helping Carver are Delia and Finn, friends and fellow orphans who have found adoptive families of their own. I especially enjoyed the character of Delia, a wannabe crime reporter, who proves that the mere fact that she is a girl doesn't mean she has to be left behind. There is also a cast of secondary characters mentioned who add to the delicious creepiness, like Simpson, one of the patients of the insane asylum who believes he can pass through walls, or like Sarah Edwards, the cat-killer and member of the Midnight Band of Mercy, whose sole purpose is to put down neighbourhood cats using chloroform. Most obvious, perhaps, is the character of Jack the Ripper, who is portrayed exactly like my darkest nightmare pictures him.

Lastly, one more thing I really enjoyed about Ripper is that many of the characters, gadgets, and places that are incorporated in the story are actually historically accurate. This book took me a long time to read, only because I would stop mid-paragraph to Google the Pinkerton Detective Agency, or the Midnight Band of Mercy, or Alice Roosevelt, or H.H. Holmes, or Jack the Ripper's murders. Also, Petrucha has even reproduced the infamous "Dear Boss" letter that has been largely accepted as penned by the real Jack the Ripper. Like I said, deliciously creepy!

I'm pretty familiar with the story of Jack the Ripper - I've even taken a Ripper tour in London, England - so I thought this novel, and in particular the ending, would not be a surprise. Guess what? (I apologize ahead of time for what's to come:) I was dead wrong. I loved this book to death and would kill for a sequel.
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Reading Progress

04/30/2012 page 180
42.0% "This book is BLOODY fantastic so far ..."
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