For a book about an orphan, I’m still a little floored at how it managed to encompass everything that fascinates me about this period. There’s a kind of steampunk flair to the Pinkerton agency that had my imagination running overtime, but it wasn’t just the gleaming steel of the pneumatic subway that had my eyes glued to the page. Petrucha’s world encapsulates two things that I’ve long been fascinated by: the Pinkertons and Jack the Ripper. Although I knew they existed in the same time, I had never before tied them together into the same place and the result is a highly suspenseful piece of mystery, filled with death, hope, admiration, and stick-to-itiveness. I kind of love that Petrucha places it in the grit and realism of New York City just before the turn of the century, but more than that, I love that he centers it in the world of youth fiction. By placing his central character in a very unique situation, he gives him an interesting place to stand in the story. For a good deal of the story, it feels as if he’s running over slick mud, that his feet will fall out from under him at any moment, which in no small part adds to the tension of the story. The one thing that adds the most urgency to the story, however, is his youth. Of course the killer will strike again tonight, everything is of immediate importance to a 14 year old. The alarming thing is how often his instincts are correct.
You thought you knew him. You were dead wrong.
Carver Young dreams of becoming a detective, despite growing up in an orphanage with only crime novels to encourage him. But when he is adopted by Detective Hawking of the world famous Pinkerton Agency, Carver is given not only the chance to find his biological father, he finds himself smack in the middle of a real life investigation: tracking down a vicious serial killer who has thrown New York City into utter panic. When the case begins to unfold, however, it’s worse than he could have ever imagined, and his loyalty to Mr. Hawking and the Pinkertons comes into question. As the body count rises and the investigation becomes dire, Carver must decide where his true loyalty lies. Full of whip-smart dialogue, kid-friendly gadgets, and featuring a then New York City Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, Ripper challenges everything you thought you knew about the world’s most famous serial killer.
I have a larger point to make, but upon reading that blurb, can I just say: kid-friendly gadgets? How is a gun with a timer kid-friendly? The thought of a fourteen year old in a room with loaded guns that are all set on a timer does not speak of safety to me. It speaks of unfortunate accident. There are some sweet gadgets in the story, don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t hand any of them to a kid until they could vote, maybe even a little after. Whew. Moving on…
I’ve always been fascinated by people who are so thoroughly evil that you want to disavow them from the human race. I completely understand the impulse. I don’t want to claim Jack the Ripper or Hitler as having any similarities to me, even on a level as basic as species. What they did was so horrible that you want to run away, screaming, while pointing a finger and condemning them to the worst parts of Hades, but the truth is that they were human beings who were capable of truly catastrophic evil. To deny their humanity is to fail to understand how humans can become these monsters. Petrucha does a remarkable job of weaving this idea into the story. It’s rare to have an evil character in a book who is anything beyond one dimensional, but through Young’s persistent research, the character of Jack the Ripper is honed into a three dimensional being. Still not a three dimensional being I’d like to meet, but oddly slightly less scary that the real life Ripper, since some of the veil is cut away.
As to the rest of the world Petrucha creates, I have to say that Teddy Roosevelt was one of my favorite characters, which is the least surprising sentence I’ve ever written. I’ve always loved the boisterous hulking man and to hear him railing about corruption in the police force made me wish he could have been the commissioner in Gotham City. They wouldn’t have needed Batman. But that’s not my main point here. My main point is that the world that Petrucha built was evocative. The soot combined with the snow to make a New York City that was real in my imagination, but it went further to give the story a darker edge. It seems to me that Petrucha went through this period and picked out all of the very best things to include in this story. To think that there might have been an underground lair for a secret arm of the Pinkerton agency made me nerd out to no end. Throw Teddy Roosevelt into the mix and a plucky fourteen year old who never gives up and you have a story that will set fire to your imagination.
In the end, this story if filled with suspense and action, but made more real by the heart of Carver Young. Good luck putting it down.
4 ink bottles.
Character Believability: 4 Buffys
Character Investibility: 4.5 Doctors
Pace/Urgency/Tension: 4 Dresdens
Worldbuilding: 4 Snyders
Language: 4 Feegles
Mystery: 4 Sherlocks