Saturday, March 23, 2013

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy...

Katie Lennox is a teenager from modern-day London, and she wishes she were someone else. Her parents died in a tragic accident a few years ago, and so she left her native Massachusetts to live with her Grandma Cleaves in London. The only person left for Katie is her sister, but her band has recently hit it big and she has been spending all her time on the other side of the pond.

So one day, Katie goes to Madame Tussauds, where a Jack the Ripper exhibition is taking place. All of a sudden, she finds herself in a dress back in London of 1888. Katie decides to stay behind and find out just who Jack the Ripper is, and we’re off to the races. How hard could it be to discover the Ripper’s true identity? After all, Katie has seen plenty of CSI

This forms the plot of Shelly Dickson Carr’s Ripped, and yes, you read that right. Shelly is the granddaughter of John Dickson Carr, and one of the reasons I was very interested in Ripped is the plot. It sounds like it took a bunch of Carr’s favourite themes—history and murder— and tied them together in a time-travel adventure (rather like Carr did in his brilliant Fear is the Same). And it seems that Shelly has learned one important lesson from the Master: how to tell a good story.

I’ll end the John Dickson Carr comparisons there. Shelly’s style is her own, and John’s style was his own. They are distinct styles, and forcing comparisons between them would be unfair to both authors. I cannot go out onto the streets singing Hosannahs and acting like John Dickson Carr has been resurrected, but I can guarantee that Ripped is a fun read.

The plot is interesting enough, but it’s difficult to describe the outcome. Let’s just say that the actions of our heroine influence the events of the timeline and the overall result is one we’re all familiar with. Myself, I don’t have a particular favourite theory about Jack the Ripper. How could I possibly? Theories have been spun to implicate just about everyone you could imagine. However, in this case, I did spot Shelly’s choice for the Ripper very early on in the game. It was an instinctive guess I made before the first killing had even taken place, but the more I read along the more I became convinced that I was right. However, even though I had my killer selected early on, I was able to enjoy the read enormously.

I thought the characters were well-defined. I have only one or two minor niggles about authenticity. Firstly, I’m not sure whether teenagers in London would walk around shouting rhyming slang at each other. Apart from this detail the young characters are fairly convincing – I say this from my point of view as an expert on the subject, being 19 myself.

My other niggle is that the family trouble between Katie’s sister (Courtney) and her grandmother has the oddest explanation. It seems that Grandma Cleaves is most offended by the historical inaccuracies in Courtney’s songs. I had to read this part twice to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. I’m not a huge fan of modern day music, but I’m pretty sure that historical references are at most a throwaway line once or twice for every 100 songs. So I’m not sure why this would be such an enormous issue. I bring this up because the historical issue in question – the famous line “Let them eat cake”, which Courtney attributed to Empress Josephine – is in turn attributed to Marie Antoinette. The problem is that Marie Antoinette probably never said these words, and as a result it's a bit of an odd moment. But this is a really minor quibble and can be easily ignored.

I don’t want to say too much more for fear of spoilers. Overall, I found Shelly Dickson Carr’s Ripped to be an enjoyable experience. It’s an easy read, decently-written, and has a few thrilling moments thrown into the mix. I liked the characters and enjoyed dipping myself into this universe. Although the book is geared more towards young adult readers, I think it could be enjoyed by older readers as well. It’s also very reasonably priced for the Kindle.

Note: There’s only one thing that is seriously working against the novel. That is the blurb, which is just… bad. It really gives you a bad idea of the kind of novel this is, as though this were some crazy time-travel farce with Katie wishing for her iPhone and the Internet every five minutes. It seems like it’s trying to market itself to young people, but it’s doing so in an almost hilariously incompetent way.

2 comments:

  1. This sounds like great fun Patrick and I'm glad that it manages to stand on its own beyond the Carrian premise - also good to see it is also available between covers. Cheers mate, another title to add to the list!

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  2. This certainly sounds interesting, and I will certainly have to look into it in the future. I think it is interesting how the Ripper murders have been used lately in young-adult fiction. I tried reading "Ripper" by Stefan Petrucha, another young-adult fiction mystery featuring the Ripper, last year, and I couldn't get through it. However, it sounds as though this novel sounds far better.

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