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All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author, There is no authorative active voice. There are only multiple readings. David Bowie, 1995

Monday, January 9, 2017

Compelling, sensitive and provocative.

The Ripper's Shadow: A Victorian Mystery (Victorian Mysteries #1) by Laura Joh Rowland

First up I need to declare that I am a huge fan of Laura Joh Rowland. I have read all of her Sano Ichiro Novel's and loved them. But this work is a far departure from those detective novels set in feudal Japan. Yet it contains the distinctive Rowland stamp of complex mystery and chilling intrigue.
The thing about Rowland is that she approaches a topic slightly out of left field. I was wondering how she was going to write another 'yawn' Jack the Ripper novel about prostitutes being gutted in the Whitechapel area of the East End in 1888.
Well there's no yawn about Rowland's Ripper's Shadow; rather we are treated to an intelligent, thoughtful and completely unique look at events through the eyes of a lonely spinster photographer. Not only that, but it seems it is the spinster's risqué boudoir photographs of the victims might be the key that links the murders.
Rowland draws together a group of unlikely conspirators bent on finding the Ripper. Sarah Bain because she feels guilty that her photographs appear to have led the Ripper to his victims.
Sara does all she can to protect the women. Along the way she gathers up other characters who come to assist her--Lord Hugh Staunton, whose partner preferences are of the male variety--a dangerous thing in Victorian England, Mick a rather wonderful street urchin, the  Lepskys, a Russian Jewish couple who understand death and persecution, and Catherine, a young and beautiful actress, one of the women Sara photographed.
The brilliant depiction of the wider community endeavouring  to band together to find the killer in the face of what they see as police ineptness, the palpable fear that spurs on mobs to rioting, and the dankness and stench of the alleyways and sewers such as where Mick lives are real.
As the story progresses we delve more deeply into the psyche of the main characters. Sarah has her own demons--a father who was killed in riots for which she blames herself, a lack of confidence, a fear of the police and serious bouts of anger. Catherine too has damaging secrets. 
As things progress the group realize that there is not one but two Rippers. Sarah becomes a target for the police and her friends are dragged into the limelight. The tensions that develop are exquisitely wrought. Sarah will react constantly surprises herself and us. This in turn ensures that you are never quite sure what will happen, but that something shocking will follow as Sara and her friends race towards a climax seemingly set in motion by a few titillating photographs.

A NetGalley ARC


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