Review: “From Whitechapel” by Melanie Clegg

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Image via the author's website
Image via the author’s website

Title: From Whitechapel: A Novel of Jack the Ripper

Author: Melanie Clegg

Published: March 3rd, 2014

Copy Origin: Bought

Summary (from Goodreads):  There was a pain, a terrible empty, lonely ache of sorrow and loss, within my ribcage while my heart felt like it had turned to ashes. This then was the end of my journey, this then was the answer that I had sought for so long, this then was the secret that Whitechapel had been withholding from me…

Alice Redmayne, beautiful daughter of a famous artist, has been haunted since childhood by the mysterious disappearance of her sister Beatrice but when she resolves to discover what happened all those years ago she finds herself enmeshed in the dark secrets of the past and caught between two very different men.

Emma Johnson was working in a brothel in Calais when a terrible mistake turned her whole world upside down and forced her to go on the run to Whitechapel, the one place where she was sure she could never be found. There she believes herself safe from the horrors of the past until her pursuer reveals his murderous intent and puts everyone she holds dear at risk.

Cora Lee is the youngest daughter of a H Division Sergeant, living above the Whitechapel Police Station on Commercial Street. Bored with her life and longing to escape, she makes a split second decision that will change everything and turn her whole world upside down.

Set against the infamous Jack the Ripper murders of autumn 1888 and based on the author’s own family history, From Whitechapel is a dark and sumptuous tale of bittersweet love, friendship, loss and redemption.

 

From Whitechapel is told by three different first person narrators… all of whom sound quite similar. True, all three girls are the same age but Alice is the daughter of a rich and famous artists, Cora the daughter of a police-sergeant in Whitechapel and Emma a former prostitute. One would assume that they sound more different but apart from the fact that Emma (and occasionally also Cora) are more likely to use curses and some swearing there is little difference in the three voices. Together with the fact that I found some of Cora’s behaviour far too childish for a 17 year old it took me some time to get in the book but after a while I was hooked.

Even though the novel is set during the Jack the Ripper-murders it is not a crime-novel. Neither of the girls is trying to capture Jack or discover his identity. Alice is trying to find her sister, Emma is mainly just trying to survive and Cora, well, she doesn’t quite know what she wants. The Ripper does influence their lives a lot but he is still not that important. Alice, Emma and Cora are, as are the Ripper-victims. We do not get to know all of them and those we meet have (with the exception of Marie/Mary Kelly) only a few lines but Emma knows them all. She grieves for them and is affected by their deaths. Unlike many other fiction (and non-fiction) about Jack the Ripper this book remembers that the victims were actual people and not some clues, left there to figure out the puzzle.

Also (and this is hardly a spoiler) any book/film about the Ripper needs to deal with the fact that nobody was ever imprisoned for the crimes and I must say that the way this books solved it was one of my favourites in this aspect and very much fitting in with the ‘This is more about the victims than the killer’-theme.

Towards the end I did get the feeling that too many things very were just shortly touched and then left without going into more depth, especially where Alice’s story was concerned. For me it left hanging in mid-air too much. Emma and Cora also do not get a clear-cut ending but I felt they did at least get more closure than Alice who learns some life-changing things in her last chapter and we never get to see how all this affects her and how she deals with that knowledge.

Still a very worthwhile read, also for non-Ripperologists. 4 Stars

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