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What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper Reviewed By Kathryn Atwood of Bookpleasures.com
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Kathryn Atwood

Reviewer Kathryn Atwood:  Kathryn is the author of Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue:  Click Here To View More Of Kathryn's   Reviews.


 
By Kathryn Atwood
Published on September 23, 2010
 

Author: Paula Marantz Cohen

ISBN-13: 978-1402243554

ISBN-10: 1402243553

Publisher: Sourcebooks

What Alice Knew is a fascinating and entertaining fictionalized “what if” look at the Jack the Ripper Murders (sometimes referred to as the Whitechapel Murders) if the case had been solved by the three famous James siblings, William, Henry, and Alice.


Author: Paula Marantz Cohen

ISBN-13: 978-1402243554

ISBN-10: 1402243553

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Click Here To Purchase What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper

What Alice Knew is a fascinating and entertaining fictionalized “what if” look at the Jack the Ripper Murders (sometimes referred to as the Whitechapel Murders) if the case had been solved by the three famous James siblings, William, Henry, and Alice.

Bringing late 19th-century London brilliantly to life – and writing in a style very similar to that found in the psychologically-attuned, detail-oriented novels of Henry James – Marantz Cohen manages to spin a page-turning mystery while presenting illuminating characterizations, both hilarious and tragic.

The book’s premise is established when Detective-Inspector Frederick Abberline, (the leader of the actual investigation), summons philosopher and psychologist William James from across the Atlantic to help solve the case. Henry and their sister Alice, already living in London in separate locations, agree to a collaborative effort with William, putting together their “much vaunted intelligence and creative skill to catch [the Ripper.]”

Using a shifting point of view, we see London of 1888 through the eyes of each sibling. Marantz Cohen portrays the dinner party-hoping Henry as being always a little jealous and critical of other writers, having him nearly break out into a fist fight with the visiting Samuel Clemens – “he did not like the homely demeanor that Clemens affected, and he liked even less the man’s great success with it” -- and initially refusing to drink out of a mug on which was painted the face of a Dickens character. At one point, when Henry and William visit the book’s oft-presented Oscar Wilde in his home, Henry notices that Wilde’s wife closely resembles him: “the resemblance was not surprising. If someone like Wilde was going to marry, he would try as far as possible to marry himself.”

Class distinctions are well delineated in the book and the philosophical William, upon his arrival in London, is struck by the foundational differences between American and British societies: “Thrown into the hubbub of the London streets after a workday, he was struck by the reality of teeming human life that his daily existence tended to obscure. The difference, he also realized, was the difference between the New World and the Old. . . . here, the past was always present, pushing up against you in coats of arms and family estates . . . Even among working people, the past hung heavy. They were pressed into age-old traditions and customs, following along, doing what was expected, doing what was always done. The idea of following the past because it was the past repulsed him . . .”

The reader is dropped, medias res, into the investigation as Inspector Abberline updates the medically trained William on the grisly murders that have already occurred, showing him stark photographs of the victims, and the page-turning murder mystery is on, each James sibling – always completely in character -- contributing significantly to the final and satisfying denouement.


Click Here To Purchase What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper