Ripper by Isabelle Allende
Release date: 2014 / 496 pages
Synopsis (from Amazon): The Jackson women, Indiana and Amanda, have always had each other. Though their bond is strong, mother and daughter are as different as night and day. Indiana, a beautiful holistic healer, is a free-spirited bohemian… While her mom looks for the good in people, Amanda is fascinated by the dark side of human nature—as is her father, the SF PD’s deputy chief of homicide. Brilliant and introverted, the MIT-bound high school senior Amanda is a natural-born sleuth addicted to crime novels and to Ripper, the online mystery game she plays with her beloved grandfather and friends around the world. When a string of strange murders occurs across the city, Amanda plunges into her own investigation, probing hints and deductions that elude the police department…
Review: When TLC contacted me about reviewing Allende’s latest novel, I was torn due to the title. I am not drawn to the genre of crime thrillers or detective novels and really do not like reading about violence. On the other hand, I adore Isabel Allende — and I admire her for stepping outside her usual milieu (see my review of Maya’s Notebook). Eventually, I was just too curious to see how she would handle a serial killer. So, I reluctantly agreed and lost three days, nose-to-book, enthralled by another other-worldly experience despite the lack of magical realism.
The focus of Ripper is a powerful woman (of course!) named Indiana and her precocious daughter Amanda. Indiana is a masseuse and healer, while teenage Amanda follows in her police detective father’s footsteps and is enthralled with the online crime game Ripper. Amanda and her cohorts (including her wonderful grandfather) follow a series of murders that occur in the San Francisco area, convinced they are the handiwork of one person. Indiana has no interest in her daughter’s fascination and is instead trying to balance the affections of a number of men, all of whom are borderline obsessed with her. Not surprisingly, the two plot lines eventually merge, but Allende does manage to keep the reader guessing until the end.
The plot is compelling and Ripper is certainly a page-turner. I was initially dismayed to see its length of 475 pages, but this was no problem due to Allende’s masterful crafting of the storyline. However, the great strength of this novel are the characters — beyond Indiana and Amanda, the suitors are fascinating and somehow so authentic and credible even though one is a wealthy socialite and one is a former Navy Seal. Even Indiana’s patients and Amanda’s teammates spring off the page fully-realized and fascinating in their own right (and are not overshadowed by the powerful protagonists).
Allende’s writing is as sensuous and lyrical as her readers expect. Here is just one passage from the beginning of the novel:
She cataloged people by scent: her grandfather, Blake, smelled of gentleness — a mixture of wool sweaters and chamolmile; Bob, her father, of strength — metal, tobacco, and aftershave; Bradley, her boyfriend, of sensuality, sweat, and chlorine; and Ryan smelled of reliability and confidence, a doggy aroma that was the most wonderful fragrance in the world. As for her mother Indiana, steeped in the essential oils of her treatment room, she smelled of magic.
This is one of those rare novels that can be recommended to nearly every reader. Allende has truly outdone herself this time. As an aside, be sure to read the letter to Booksellers at the start where she explains her motivation, her process, her attempt (and failure) to co-write a novel with her husband, and then signs the letter Yours in crime and punishment, Isabelle Allende Certified Assassin.
I’m not fully convinced that Allende can thrive in any genre and will not hesitate to read her next novel, even if a bodice-ripping romance!
Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour: