Just who was Jack the Ripper? It is 1888 and this novel opens with a dinner party with a cast of very real characters from history all discussing just who Jack the Ripper may actually be. Author Henry James is inebriated, but enjoys the conversation around the table with Robert Browning, Samuel Clemens (AKA Mark Twain), George duMaurier, John Singer Sargent and Oscar Wilde. It's as though the author took the question of who would you like to dine with and built a fascinating mystery around it.
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What was so much fun in this work was discovering that William James, the brother of Henry James, was a noted psychologist who actually did explore the question of who was this murderer lurking around London? He was asked by Scotland Yard to come to London to see if he could figure out the mind of a killer due to his research.
In addition, Alice, the sister remained in the home because of her unspecified illness. She worried about her brother, Henry, who was prone to drinking, thinking his path would cross with Jack the Ripper's and meeting his demise. (At one point, this seems like it was quite possible since Henry was harmed by someone he did not see in the dark of night.) She also tries to gather details in order to help find this madman before he gets his next victim. Alice is mostly bedridden, but is bright and intelligent, and wants to solve this mystery. (In actual research of this woman, it turns out that she was prone to what was often defined for the time as “hysteria.”)
Even though they work together to figure out whom the criminal is, there is a rivalry between Henry and William that adds to the fun of this book while it seems that it was based on actual friction between the brothers.
The author does a fantastic job of building the scenes and providing details that make one feel as though they are in the heart of London during this time in history. We don't know to this day who the actual Jack the Ripper was, at least there is no conclusive evidence, but for this work, we are given a possibility.
Best part of story, including ending:
I loved that the author used very real people from that era to show how they wanted to discover who Jack the Ripper was.
Best scene in story:
When Henry gets into the carriage, but is knocked out. It leaves the reader believing that Ripper was trying to hinder the investigation.
Opinion about the main character:
I liked that reading Henry James in a fictional context made me want to learn more about him in reality.