No one is more disappointed in this book, or in my reaction to it, than I am.
I desperately wanted to love Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco, and really I should have. It is the exact sort of historical fiction novel that would normally be right up my alley: a look at Victorian London during the tumultuous time of Jack the Ripper’s reign, as told by a young woman struggling to break free of societal norms and pursue science, forensics and academia. Doesn’t that sound like something I would absolutely love, as the intense and passionate pseudo-Victorian I am? Shouldn’t I have felt a strong connection to the narrator and protagonist Audrey Rose Wadsworth, especially considering that I have often imagined myself living in the Victorian era and have fancied that I might be a bit of a badass amateur detective too? Well yeah, all of that is true…but for whatever reason, I could not connect to Audrey Rose (on the contrary, I found her extremely annoying – more on that to come), I was not at all attracted to or intrigued by her love interest Thomas Cresswell, and I found it very difficult to follow what little action there was in the plot. Argh, I am actually so frustrated because I feel that this novel had such potential considering the awesome premise, but it just totally failed on every account for me – to be perfectly honest, I could barely keep my mind from wandering as I read and Maniscalco’s writing style and Audrey Rose’s voice in no way captured my attention.
Honestly, what a mess – the novel probably isn’t that bad in theory and I know my opinion is really unpopular, so there are a ton of people who really loved this story, but I just could not get into it, no matter how hard I tried. And that makes me so sad! Reading Stalking Jack the Ripper was, for me, a very similar experience to reading Anna and the French Kiss earlier this year. Anna and the French Kiss is a novel that so many readers absolutely adore and rave about, and my expectations were so high when I picked it up. That’s what made it even more disappointing when I found myself getting seriously annoyed by Anna and hating her crush St. Clair. I wanted to love them, but that meant that I felt like I was constantly trying to force myself to find the story enjoyable. And I don’t think you should ever have to force yourself to love a book…that sort of excited feeling should come naturally!
If I’m being truthful, I disliked Stalking Jack the Ripper for the same reasons I disliked Anna and the French Kiss: I found the narrator and female lead to be insufferable and insipid, and I found her love interest to be flat and boring. That really is an unpopular opinion because I have read so many reviews where readers said Audrey Rose was fierce and inspiring and Thomas was swoon-worthy…but I’m just left thinking, Huh? What did I miss?
Allow me to go into why I disliked each of these characters so that you don’t think I’m an immature reader who just felt like hating on a popular novel. Let’s start with Thomas – he is the absolute most bland love interest I have ever encountered, except for the previously mentioned St. Clair. I truly do not get Thomas’ appeal whatsoever. He’s supposed to be this freakishly intelligent, Sherlock Holmes type character, but all of his deductions are seriously lame. It’s like he’s grasping at straws half the time when he deduces anything about Audrey Rose, like, for example, saying that her mother must have died and her relationship with her father must be strained because she plays with the ring she always wears. Like what? Or that she must’ve been visiting Bedlam Asylum because she has rust stains on her hands. I was seriously confused by Thomas’ train of thought for about 95% of the time he was present in the novel, and it felt like Maniscalco was trying desperately to make him resemble Sherlock Holmes but failing miserably because, let’s be honest, she isn’t Sherlock Holmes or Arthur Conan Doyle, so how could she possibly replicate those sorts of thought processes? I don’t know, it all felt like a poorly done parody to me, and I didn’t even find Thomas’ attempts at flirtation to be that intriguing because it felt like it was coming out of nowhere. One minute he’d be focused on his allegedly brilliant thoughts and then he’d come out with a very weak flirtatious line about Audrey Rose’s lips or something equally cliché. I mean, colour me bored and unimpressed…I read most of his dialogues with Audrey Rose with one eyebrow raised, thinking, Where on earth is this even going? In my opinion, Audrey Rose and Thomas had absolutely 0 chemistry, and I think the novel simply did not need a love interest for Audrey Rose because she would’ve had the exact same adventure in every way without Thomas. Why are love interests always gratuitously slipped into young adult novels for the sake of it? I’m done with it…make the love story interesting and productive or don’t put it in at all please!
Having said that, Thomas had one funny line in the novel that I actually liked…ONE line in 320+ pages. *sigh*
“‘It’s been as pleasant as a fast day in Lent, gentlemen.’” ~ Thomas
Okay, on to Audrey Rose, one of the most annoying and air-headed protagonists I have ever encountered. I’m not going to go into detail about how she literally stumbles on every clue toward solving her case without any actual effort or agency – other reviewers have done that better than me, so be sure to check out their reviews on Goodreads. What I will say is that everything about Audrey Rose seemed to be a huge contradiction. She is the actual definition of the whole “The lady doth protest too much” idea. Basically, Audrey Rose wants to study science, she wants to be part of the male dominated profession of forensic science, she wants to attend classes and make a name for herself. That is great, totally encouraged, go you, Audrey Rose, girl power! However, what irked me to no end is the fact that Audrey Rose goes on and on about how, despite being into science, she still loves the finer things in life while simultaneously criticizing others for loving those finer things. Don’t misunderstand me: I am all for Audrey Rose being a badass serial killer hunter and still wearing makeup and pretty dresses and drinking fine tea. Trust me, I am that person who likes wearing pink frilly blouses to hard rock concerts; if anyone gets having multiple layers to one’s personality and a variety of different passions and interests, it’s me. But what got to me is that Audrey Rose will talk about wanting to be able to wear makeup and pretty dresses while using her brain, but then go on to look down upon her female peers who wear makeup and pretty dresses. Audrey Rose is, quite frankly, a snob because she seems to have this idea that if a woman is going to be girly or prim and proper, she is wasting herself because she isn’t pursuing something seriously academic. But really, this is the exact same thing as people implying that Audrey Rose can’t be a beautiful woman and be a scientist: BOTH of these things are stereotypes and BOTH of these reactions are caused by prejudice and judgment. If a woman wants to use her brain to become the best party thrower in Victorian England, that is her right, but Audrey Rose seems to think this is not a worthwhile enterprise, so she criticizes it to no end. It would be one thing if Audrey Rose was totally against the luxuries of being of a higher class…maybe then it would make sense for her to criticize the women around her because she is doing everything in the name of science and intelligence…BUT this isn’t even the case because Audrey Rose herself states that she loves being of a higher class on multiple occasions, so it comes across as her being super conceited and thinking that only the way she goes about being of a higher class is the right way. It’s just pompous and came across as super annoying to me! I got to the point where I wanted to punch Audrey Rose in the face a few times for being so judgy – she was actually more of an asshole than characters like her Aunt Amelia who were supposed to be the old-fashioned, judgmental ones.
Anyway, I identified a few quotes where Audrey Rose was being particularly judgmental and stuck up, and I’m going to include them below, lest you all think I’m just being rude! Obviously, any text is open to interpretation, so maybe I’m just being touchy about all this, but it got to me and seriously hindered my reading experience.
- “‘You speak as if you’d like to throw away your good name and swash the decks yourself.’” = So apparently, if science isn’t a person’s chosen profession, Audrey Rose is going to scorn it. Let’s say her brother Nathaniel did want to give up his high class to become a sailor…would that be so bad? Audrey Rose seems to think it’s worthy of mockery. And obviously she doesn’t like the idea of giving up lavish luxury very much herself.
- “‘Their biscuits are my favourite for tea,’ I said.” = In the middle of a murder investigation, all Audrey Rose can think about is how good certain biscuits are when she has her tea. Talk about first world problems!
- “I couldn’t control my lip from curling at his ability to ignore the cesspool of filth that had been wiped all around the glass. God only knew what kind of disease he was potentially being exposed to.” = When visiting a bar in the lower class area where many of Jack the Ripper’s victims were found, Audrey Rose can’t help but focus on how dirty and unsightly everything is…because that should really be the major concern of a detective who is meant to be helping the lower class people, not being disgusted by them!
- “gathering my skirts like silent witnesses” = I’m sorry, but this is the worst simile ever! Does that idea even make sense?
- “Her hair – somewhere between caramel and chocolate – was twisted into an intricate design about her crown. I’d love to fashion mine in a similar way.” = Oh, so you do love looking beautiful, eh Audrey Rose?
- “If only life’s problems could be solved with a frilly dress and a pair of slippers. To hell with the world around us, so long as we looked our best.” = This is a great example of Audrey Rose being a pompous ass – her tone is so sarcastic and mocking, but this is only pages after she’s talking about how she wants to try out a hairstyle like her cousin’s. I mean, come on – can’t she be a little more accepting, the same way she’d like others to be? No, instead she is an actual snob!
- “Here I was, playing dress-up while Uncle was in the asylum and a murderer was butchering innocent women.” = I don’t think you can have it both ways, Audrey Rose! Yes, you can be beautiful and smart, but you can’t criticize people for loving the finer things to the point of obliviousness and then do the exact same thing yourself…because it is ANNOYING!
Ugh, I am so over this novel! I am really mad that I didn’t like it, and I am 100% frustrated by the fact that I didn’t seem to get this novel. What an utter disappointment!
“‘There’s nothing better than a little danger dashed with some romance.’”
Agreed…but sadly, this book has NEITHER!
I’m really tempted to give it 1 star…but I’m not a heartless guttersnipe, so I’ll bump it to 2 because it was at least a quick, short read and Audrey Rose’s outfits sounded pretty. UGH!
Also, if you’re looking for a book that does everything Stalking Jack the Ripper attempts to do but better, read A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro!
❥❥ (out of 5)
Girl with a Green (and VERY Disappointed) Heart