Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Ripper Returns

After reading the reviews by Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan on their blog, Bookends, for Booklist Online I was doomed despite their warnings; who can resist the words Jack the Ripper, unsolved murders, ghosts, secrets within secrets.  What was I thinking when I started this book the week before Christmas?  Needless to say I did set aside many tasks that should have been completed to finish The Name of the Star written by Maureen Johnson in near record time.

If you live in New Orleans and they think a hurricane might be coming, all hell breaks loose.

Yes, this begins in Louisiana with an introduction to the town of Benouville, Rory (Aurora) Deveaux, her attorney parents, unique, quirky, extended family members and neighbors and the humor that permeates the mystery, fear and drama of the major storyline.

We do have a neighbor with a two-man rowboat lashed on top of the porch roof, all ready to go if the water rises--but that's Billy Mack, and he started his own religion in the garage, so he's got a lot more going on than just an extreme concern for personal safety.

..."Cousin Diane runs the Healing Angel Ministry out of her living room.  Well, and also her backyard.  She has a hundred sixty-one statues of angels in her backyard.  Plus she has eight hundred seventy-five angel figurines, dolls, and pictures in the house.  And people go to her for angel counseling."...

Let me backtrack a tad, the true beginning is the traditional title page and info followed by the not so traditional map of all the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888 London with a three page description of a nurse on her way to work finding the first victim in a series of recreations of the original Jack the Ripper strikes.

Trust me when I say that within a handful of pages readers will be completely and overwhelmingly hooked.

Rory has recently arrived at a boarding school in London, Wexford, on the same day that the first murder victim is found; her parents having taken positions teaching American law at the University of Bristol in England.  An assortment of people with perfectly portrayed personalities that you will appreciate, like or dislike quickly become part of Rory's life; the stalwart, no-nonsense housemistress of Hawthorne (girls' house), Claudia, her level-headed studious roommate, Jazza, prefect, know-it-all, head girl, Charlotte, a new romantic interest, Jerome, a prefect at the guy's house and a journalist in the making who is obsessed with the recent Ripper-like killings and the extremely knowledgeable Alistair who likes to roam the stacks at the library reading in the dark.  Life in an English boarding school quickly shifts from adjusting to a new normal to outright goosebumps creepy when Rory, and only Rory, sees this serial killer even though he was right in front of both she and Jazza. 

When she bravely goes to the police claiming to be a witness after another death, three new characters join the cast; a young looking policeman named Stephen , a new roommate, Boo Chodhari, who is more than a student, and muscular Callum a worker in the underground transit system.  Due to what could have been her demise, choking at a meal, Rory has acquired a new ability, the ability to see those that are dead but still roam the streets of London.  So can her three new acquaintances who just happen to be part of a very secret organization within the British government.

As the date of the final original Jack the Ripper killing draws near Rippermania grabs the citizens of London and beyond, terror escalates at a rapid pace, tension mounts to a screaming pitch.  With an ending that will have you crying out loud, "no, no, no" and a twist that is right-on target, readers will hardly be able to wait for the next installment.  Yes, this is the first title in the Shades of London series.

Maureen Johnson creates a true-to-life sense of living in today's London, for what it is like to be a student in their senior year at a boarding school and the gut wrenching panic of knowing that any minute could be your last. 

Pigeons cooed outside the window.  The building creaked and settled.  I reached over and ran my hand over the heavy, slightly scratchy blue material on the sofa.  I looked up at the bookcases built in the walls, stretching to the high ceiling.  I had done it.  This was actually London, this cold, empty building.  Those pigeons were English pigeons.  I had imagined this for so long, I didn't quite know how to process the reality. 

The door shut, and we were once again outside in the cold, I didn't want to take the long way around, for several reason--not the least of which was the fact that the Ripper was actually in East London somewhere.  Cutting through the square was the safest and most direct route--but also was the one that increased our chances of getting caught by several orders of magnitude.  ...I was about to do the same when I realized someone was next to me. ...

I noticed that the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data did not assign a genre to this title; interesting.  Personally I would say this tilts more toward science fiction than fantasy; supernatural to be sure but highly technological in some respects.  It passes my probable or impossible test heavily on the probable side but it could be that Johnson's writing is so superb that readers (myself included) want to believe.

Snappy dialogue liberally laced with reality and humor, a setting right out of history rich, mysterious and frightening, to the point where you have to remind yourself to breath, and a plot that pulses full speed ahead will have readers sending Johnson numerous emails begging her to write as fast as she can.  Enjoy all the fascinating extras at her web site linked above to her name including the first 78 pages of this book.

I would recommend this for upper middle school readers due to some grisly details and mild swearing.

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