People Of Abandoned Character by Clare Whitfield

People Of Abandoned Character
is Clare Whitfield's take on the mystery of Jack the Ripper.

Susannah, a woman with no family who works as a nurse, is newly married to Thomas Lancaster, a surgeon from a wealthy family. Their courtship is feisty and flirtatious and their honeymoon passionate, but upon returning to Thomas's London home, things soon change. Thomas becomes increasingly cruel and distant and his sexual demands more aggressive. He's paranoid, secretive and frequently absent - most often at night.

Meanwhile, Susannah is increasingly fascinated and horrified by the murders of women taking place in Whitechapel, a district she knows all too well. When details of the Ripper's knowledge of anatomy start to surface, Susannah begins to connect the dots.

This might lead you to imagine that People of Abandoned Character is a creepy Gothic chiller - especially if you factor in that Dr Lancaster has a Mrs Danvers-like housekeeper who makes a point of bullying his new bride. But that isn't really the feeling I got from this book. Susannah is certainly in the classic literary position of being a lone woman in peril in a large house, but she has plenty of secrets of her own and is far from a reliable narrator, as well as being capable of quite cold, self-serving behaviour. She is rightfully resentful of the limitations placed upon her simply because she's a woman, and yet at the same time her judgements of other women are often quite harsh and unsympathetic, which jarred a little with the feminist elements of the novel.

In what I assume is an attempt to humanise the Ripper's victims, Whitfield gives each of them a chapter of her own. In their own right, those chapters are quite powerful, but in the context of this book, they felt slightly tokenistic to me, as if they were there to assuage guilt rising from using real-life murders as a plot device. If you are uncomfortable with entertainment being derived from the real-life Ripper murders, don't write a book about them: this novel would have worked perfectly well with a fictional murder spree at its core, and if you want people to read more about Jack the Ripper's victims, tell them to read Hallie Rubenhold's excellent work of non-fiction The Five rather than projecting your own assumptions on them.

Overall, I just couldn't get along with this book. The language is sometimes anachronistic, and the plot becomes increasingly ridiculous as the story unfolds. The solution to the Ripper mystery is underwhelming, and some racist, xenophobic attitudes of the day are underlined rather than countered by one of the characters. This one just wasn't for me.