Stalking Jack the Ripper
by Kerri Maniscalco
Spoiler Alert: Nathaniel, Audrey Rose’s brother, is Jack the Ripper.
Insight Into Stalking Jack the Ripper
I reread books often. I also rewatch TV shows and movies religiously. It’s a lot easier and a lot more comfortable to consume a piece of media that you already know. It requires less attention and effort because you not only know the ending – like I always advocate for – but you also know every plot point leading up to it. So what if you skim a few lines or skip the boring part? It doesn’t matter, you get the gist. Even with all that being true, it’s still only a particular piece of media that I will reread: my favorites, of which Stalking Jack the Ripper makes the top of the list.
Most recently, I reread this book because I promised my friend an annotated book in exchange for a sample of her writing. Little does she know, I got the better end of the deal because I got to reread one of my favorite books, subtly force another person to read it, and read what she wrote. Nonetheless, I chose Stalking Jack the Ripper because I could easily see any person, including her, loving it as much as I do.
Spoiler-y Plot Summary
Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco follows Audrey Rose Wadsworth, the daughter of Lord Edmund Wadsworth. Set in London in the late 1880s, Audrey’s passions lie outside of Victorian etiquette and securely in the laboratory of Dr. Jonathan Wadsworth, her uncle and renowned forensic pathologist. For further clarification, Audrey Rose, alongside her uncle, performs autopsies. Audrey Rose has worked as an apprentice for a long while and has only just earned herself the right to perform incisions on the corpses at the beginning of the book. It is during her first official autopsy that a mysterious stranger interrupts and she’s forced to end her lesson early, with the promise of attending her uncle’s class (for the first time) the next day.
At this class, disguised as a boy, Audrey Rose listens as her uncle details a recent murder. It is then that a boy in that class, Thomas Cresswell, offers some disturbingly detailed interpretations of how the murder may have gone down. He, she believes, is the same mysterious stranger that interrupted her autopsy. By the end of the lesson, he has forced Audrey Rose to reveal herself to him as Dr. Wadsworth’s niece and a rapport is established between the pair. Later that night, the two work alongside each other in her uncle’s laboratory to further investigate the murder victim, Miss Mary Ann Nichols, and come to the realization that her murderer likely had medicinal experience and is likely harvesting organs from his victims.
In her home life, Audrey Rose lives with her father and brother, Nathaniel. Her father is an intense hypochondriac due to her mother falling ill and dying when she was much younger. Partly due to this and partly from his aristocratic morals, he greatly disapproves of her interest in forensics. Her father is also estranged from her uncle, following the death of her mother, due to her uncle’s apparent failure to save her mother’s life. This estrangement is yet another reason why her father finds her “hobby” to be inappropriate. With all this in mind, Audrey must hide her murder investigation and relationship with her uncle.
The second murder of a woman named Annie Chapman led the trio of forensic enthusiasts to believe the murderer has 1) a deep hatred for women and 2) a desire to play God. Coupled with what they’ve already concluded, they come to believe these murders are only the first of many. This realization, however, is cut short by the arrival of Audrey Rose’s brother who’s in a state of distress with troubling news: their father has left for the country after being discovered in an opium den. But before leaving with her brother, another clue is uncovered, a woman named Emma Elizabeth Smith was the true first victim of their killer.
Taking advantage of her father’s absence, Audrey Rose decides to investigate his office, coming to a startling discovery — her father has a newspaper clipping of Emma Elizabeth Smith’s murder in his desk. To figure out why, Audrey Rose and Thomas track down her father’s former valet, only to find him sick with leprosy and on his deathbed. In his dying moments, he proclaims, (ominously, I might add) “He knows what happened! He was there that night!” His remarks made this trip altogether unhelpful other than providing some insights that Emma Elizabeth Smith was her uncle’s former fiancé and that a man named Alistair knew something about this, though exactly what he knew is still unknown.
So, Audrey Rose sets out in search of this mysterious Alistair, whom she discovers, through her brother, to be her father’s carriage driver. But, yet again, she finds the man on his deathbed…this time with his throat slit and she’s offered no clues other than the vague impression that she’s caused his death from her investigative pursuits.
To make matters worse, a policeman, Superintendent Blackburn, tells Audrey Rose that her uncle has been arrested and taken to Bedlam for the murders. In the process of his arrest, the laboratory was sacked for evidence and her uncle is expected to hang for his supposed “crimes.” With the help of Blackburn, Audrey Rose is able to visit her uncle in prison only to find him in a drugged state that prevents him from offering any insights. She is, essentially, on her own now.
Later, Audrey Rose is taken to Central News Agency after the arrival of a letter from Jack the Ripper where he warns of another murder…which takes place shortly thereafter. Audrey Rose is escorted to the murder site by Superintendent Blackburn and discovers the most gruesome scene yet with two bodies. Audrey Rose’s inspection of the bodies, however, is cut short by the appearance of her father who immediately forces Audrey Rose home, in the process revealing that Blackburn was intending to court Audrey Rose the entire time. Meaning, he was helping her less out of kindness and more as a way to win her favor, which immediately makes Audrey Rose dislike him. (Good thing, too, because Thomas is clearly a better suitor.)
The next time Audrey Rose makes it back to her uncle’s laboratory, she forces both her uncle and Thomas to own up and explain some of the discoveries she’s made. First, she asks her Uncle Jonathan to speak about Emma Elizabeth Smith and their history. He explains that they ended their relationship after she made him choose between science or her. After he made his choice, she chose to live as a prostitute to hurt him as much as possible. Then, Audrey Rose asked Thomas to explain the rumors surrounding him and his experiments, which included organ donation. Thomas defends himself, saying that it was unlike what the murderer is potentially doing – stealing organs for transplant – and that he was working for the betterment of society, so that others wouldn’t have to die like his own mother had — something they hadn’t realized they shared in common.
After yet another letter arrives from Jack the Ripper to the newspaper, Audrey Rose decides (yet again) to set out to the East End in search of the murderer, whom she now believes to be her father because of his personal connections to many of the victims. This time accompanied by Thomas. On the streets, they are threatened by attackers who’ve discovered that Thomas has performed autopsies on their loved ones, without their consent – while Thomas had been led to believe the corpses were unclaimed. They manage to get away and in the heat of the moment, the two share a kiss (finally!!). However, their amorous moment swiftly ends when Audrey Rose sees her father’s carriage on the street.
The next day, another murder was discovered, and Audrey Rose is further convinced of her father’s involvement so she decides to confront him. She marches her way to his office and he’s not home, but she is able to make a discovery in the office. A painting on the wall pulls forward and the room is revealed which houses all matters of grotesque science experiments, the worst being her mother’s decaying body hooked to a machine. Jack the Ripper’s intention is finally clear — he wanted to bring her mother back from the dead. Audrey Rose tries to make her escape but is intercepted by her brother who then reveals it’s not their father who’s the murderer, but him.
Before Nathaniel is able to carry out his intention of bringing their mother back to life, Thomas interrupts, having made the connections himself. He promises Nathaniel a choice: he can continue on and be arrested, or he can be the brother Audrey Rose deserves and stop. He chooses neither and starts the system which he believes will bring back his mother, only to be electrocuted in the process.
In the aftermath of her brother's death, Audrey Rose is grieving, and her father finally comes to accept her love of forensics because he’s realized he cannot coddle her to keep her safe — she must go on to be her own person. So he sends her to a forensic medicine school where she can master her craft…perfectly setting up the second book in the series.
Analysis: Should You Read It?
Overall, Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper is one of my favorite series because it grabs you from the first page. There is rarely a slow moment, and the book offers a perspective that I find entirely unique — that of a forensic scientist, which is unique in the YA genre. Every written scene of Audrey Rose performing an autopsy garnered a morbid curiosity and led me into my Criminal Minds phase after I first read this novel.
Beyond making the main character so engrossed with forensics, Kerri Maniscalco also makes Audrey Rose an enthusiastic feminist. Personally, I found the modern ideologies woven into the Victorian-era book to be too strong. Primarily, this is because Audrey Rose came off as thinking she’s better than other girls of her era, making comments about their love of gossip and shopping like it was entirely negative. Her tearing down of customarily feminine things that these women enjoy seems counterintuitive to some ideas of feminism. This throws Audrey Rose in an unfavorable light, especially since much of her personality came from these ideologies, which then enforced her apparent superiority. Despite this, Audrey Rose remained an interesting main character when her motives were separated from this.
The true gem of this novel comes in the form of Audrey Rose’s love interest: Thomas Cresswell. He is written in such a fascinating way that you’re led to believe he was the murderer at certain points but still can’t help but love him. His witty conversations with Audrey Rose set an entertaining foundation from which their love story can grow. Additionally, his character makeup as a deductive science-lover makes him all the more appealing.
If you enjoy this book, I suggest Kerri Maniscalco’s second series, Kingdom of the Wicked, which follows a young witch investigating her sister’s disappearance. I would also suggest Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price. This book is a Pride and Prejudice retelling, which shares itself in being a historical murder mystery with a touch of feminism.