Everyone has a weird, niche knowledge about something unusual, right? Some people teach themselves Klingon; some people can name every player on their favorite sports team. Me? I know tons of random Jack the Ripper facts. So naturally, as a geek, I had to read this novel.
In People of Abandoned Character by Clare Whitfield, Susannah is a nurse in a London hospital in 1888, until she has a whirlwind romance with a doctor and leaves her job to marry him. But her relationship quickly sours as her husband, Thomas, reveals himself to be cruel. As Susannah struggles to navigate her new circumstances, she notices a troubling pattern—Thomas has been going out at night, and on several of those occasions, women have turned up murdered in Whitechapel. Susannah can’t help but wonder, therefore, if her husband might be the man they’re calling Jack the Ripper.
First and foremost, I was pleased by the obvious amount of research that went into this novel. There’s lots of detail about the Whitechapel murders, from the victims to the suspects to the inquests. It’s clear from this book why the murders were never solved, what with the press muddling everything with their sensationalizing and the police lacking the training and protocol (as well as the desire to put in the effort, since the women were so often called prostitutes). I really liked the attention to detail, as well as the sympathetic way Whitfield portrayed the victims.
However, I wish that she had provided a solution for who Jack is, at least in this fictional version of the crimes. (Oh, I guess that’s kind of a small spoiler, oops. Yeah, we don’t know who the Ripper is in real life or in this book, if you didn’t know.) Unless I missed something, we are left with a bit of a question mark. Yes, that’s accurate to reality, but I felt it made the resolution of the story a little lacking.
That aside, I enjoyed several aspects of this book. The characters are pretty layered, especially Susannah, though I didn’t end up loving any of them. Thomas is utterly despicable, of course, but everyone else is just okay. However, the various relationships and the way they developed were quite intriguing. Also, many of the more intense scenes had lots of emotion and suspense, so I felt compelled to keep reading. And the twist at the end involving the final Ripper victim was great; it’s a clever way to address the real-life discrepancies of that murder vs. the others. See, I told you I was a geek.
In the end, People of Abandoned Character wasn’t my favorite book, but it was an interesting, dark historical fiction. The characters are decent, if not entirely likeable, but where this book really shines is in how it captures life in Whitechapel in 1888. If you’re looking for a chilling story, check this out!
Overall rating: 7.9/10
Content warnings: There are some graphic descriptions of murder victims, as well as allusions to sexual violence. There is also some adult language.