When I picked this book up, I thought I was indulging in my particular affection for a yarn set in the nitty gritty Victorian London. Jack the Ripper, Boarding Schools, a young, vulnerable heroine that is stronger than she looks. Perfect for these dozy winter days.
Imagine my surprise when the first scene takes place in an airplane. Wait. That can’t be right- this book is about Jack the Ripper, right?
Right. And it is also set in Modern Day London. Rory Deveaux, a teenager from Louisiana is going to spend a year in London at a boarding school while her parents take a sabbatical to teach in Bristol. The day she arrives happens to coincide with the first murder in what is beginning to look like a copycat Jack the Ripper case and her new school happens to be right smack dab in the middle of Jack’s old killing ground. The murders continue on the same exact dates of the original Jack the Ripper killings and, despite the quantity of surveillance cameras and footage of the murders, the police still cannot identify the murderer. It is only when Rory has a near death experience that she understands why.
After a bit of a mental adjustment, I could not put this book down. Rory is a funny, smart but average, run -of-the-mill teenage girl. She’s not Hermione smart though she’s not stupid. She’s not overly gorgeous though she’s pretty. Her friendship with her new room mate and her boy crush all feel right.
But where Johnson really shines is in creep factor. All is well , Rory is adjusting to her life in an English prep school. She makes friends, is intimidated by her classes and likes a boy. Lalalalalala, everything is good. The grizzly Ripper murders are firmly in the background.
Until the next corpse is found in the middle of the school courtyard, murdered only minutes after Rory crosses it. Oh, and she’s seeing people that nobody else is seeing. Creepy guys that appear out of nowhere. And then the book just ramps up the pace until I was left breathless, and I’ll admit it, really really wanting a night light.
Quibble time: I did notice a few places where I was conscious of an info dump through dialogue. Now, this is a very hard thing to avoid when you are a writer, especially if your novel has an element that isn’t part of people’s everyday experience (in this case a supernatural element- and no- not vampires). You need to convey certain things to the reader without them feeling like you are trying to shove a whole bunch of info up their nostrils. There were certain bits in this novel where my nostrils were feeling quite packed.
Still, this did not diminish my need to find out what happens at all costs. Work shmork. Kids shmids. Who needs them when you are in the grip of a good Jack the ripper mystery ghost story?