Book #40

People of Abandoned Character by Clare Whitfield

London, 1888: Susannah rushes into marriage to a young and wealthy surgeon. After a passionate honeymoon, she returns home with her new husband wrapped around her little finger. But then everything changes.

Thomas's behavior becomes increasingly volatile and violent. He stays out all night, returning home bloodied and full of secrets. The gentle caresses she enjoyed on her wedding night are now just a honeyed memory.

When the first woman is murdered in Whitechapel, Susannah's interest is piqued. But as she follows the reports of the ongoing hunt for the killer, her mind takes her down the darkest path imaginable. Every time Thomas stays out late, another victim is found dead.

Is it coincidence? Or is her husband the man they call Jack the Ripper?

I do wonder what Jack the Ripper would think of his legacy still being analysed and pondered over one hundred years after his brutal campaign. There are so many different takes on who this man could have been, his motives, his mental state, his desires. With People of Abandoned Character, Whitfield gives us another unique take on the story, and does it well.

We meet Susannah, a nurse in Whitechapel. She marries a handsome and wealthy doctor, and all of her chips seem to fall into place, at least until after the honeymoon. As events unfold and the Ripper’s atrocities plague the city, we begin to wonder whether the similarities between the killer’s predilections and her husband's cruelties are coincidences or clues.

There’s a lot happening here outside of the murders, which I welcomed and was enveloped in. Whitfield has depicted the atmosphere of Victorian London vividly, and I was both glad and appalled to see the squalor, feel the fear, and experience the iniquity of the time. Whitfield touches on societal customs and expectations in a way which really drives home Susannah’s situation, and I did appreciate the subtle nods to LGBT relationships.

There were a few aspects of this which I found to be slightly contrived, and I really had to suspend my disbelief towards the end of the novel. What should have read as huge twists seemed incredibly beyond the scope of my imagination, despite there being some ideas thrown around which were a bit more credible.

An overall exciting and atmospheric account of life in London during the Ripper’s reign. Hold your nose.