Friday, December 13, 2013

Book Review: RIPPED

Title: Ripped
Author: Shelly Dickson Carr
Publisher: New Book Partners
Pages: 520

Ripped by Shelly Dickson Carr is a time travel tale that seeks to solve a mystery that has remained unsolved for over a hundred years. The finest minds of Scotland Yard could not solve the mystery at that time. More than 120 years later, the aura surrounding the mystery continues to baffle people and inspire speculation and conjecture.

It is in this spirit that Shelly has embarked upon her novel. Putting together the historical facts with elements from her own imagination, always a heady combination, she has served up this delicious story that courses along smoothly for the most part, with only a few glitches ending up affecting the flavour of the dish.

In the 21st century, the Boston-born Katie Lennox finds herself forced to re-locate to London and live with her Grandma Cleaves, following the deaths of her parents in a car crash. Her elder sister, Courtney, lead singer of the rock-chick band, Metro Chicks, lives a lifestyle unapproved by their grandmother. Katie longs to have a family life again, and misses her parents deeply.

On a trip to the Madame Tussaud Wax Museum, along with cousin Collin and his best friend, Toby, to see the Jack the Ripper exhibit, Katie also visits the London Stone, about which legend says that it has the power to grant three wishes of those who are pure at heart.

Even as she longs for her parents’, Katie inexplicably makes a wish for the life of Lady Beatrix, the last victim of Jack the Ripper, and one of her forebears. Her wish is granted and she is transported to the London of 1888, days before Jack the Ripper was to attack his first victim. Believing that Jack the Ripper was somebody trustworthy who could walk the streets unquestioned, Katie decides to find and stop Jack the Ripper and save Lady Beatrix and the other victims that he brutally murdered and mutilated.

But life in the late 1800s isn’t going to be easy. And Katie soon learns that getting what she wished for isn’t always a good thing.

Shelly has done a great job of descriptions and dialogue. Pedigree clearly shows. Her grandfather was John Dickson Carr, American author of detective fiction, whose characters Dr Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale are highly regarded.

The writing makes delightful reading, although there are some occasions that demand a little more drama that Shelly could have exploited to better effect.

Shelly manages to hold our attention with her characterisation of Katie, Toby (from both centuries) and Collin (from the 19th century). Katie, of course, is a feisty little thing, not averse to a little eavesdropping when the situation demands it and wholly game for adventure. And Toby and Collin from the 1880s show themselves to be real. Toby’s broken nose and Collin’s slickly combed hair are touches that bring them alive to the reader. On the other hand, too much attention is paid to the physical description of Lady Beatrix, who has precious little to do in the story.

Because this is the 19th century, Shelly cannot resist dropping names. So we have Oscar Wilde, a washed down, insipid, diluted version of him; James Whistler, the artist, Samuel Clemens, Bram Stoker, and a reference to Friedrich Engels. Shelly tries to make Wilde more real by putting his most famous quotations to use as part of his speech. 
Unfortunately, she doesn’t always manage to pull it off.

Despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed reading Ripped, there were some glitches that upset the story. That Katie and Collin are cousins today and that Toby is Collin’s best friend is clear. But that Katie should be the cousin of Lady Beatrix, one of her own forebears, who is a dead ringer for her sister, and that Collin and Toby should both be part of the household in the 19th century is just too much to swallow. And what a coincidence that the characters look the same and have the same names across centuries!

Also, Katie’s motivation for risking her own life for a distant member of her family from a previous century is weak. Particularly, when undoing her parents’ deaths was her main concern a few hours earlier.

And whatever happens to the real 19th century Katie from America? Initially, Toby tells Katie that she has changed greatly since she first arrived from Boston. However, after that neither Shelly nor Toby make the slightest reference to her. Did she disappear into thin air? Or did the London Stone transport her somewhere else?

The repeated and liberal scattering of Cockney slang, at the beginning and throughout the book, makes little sense, particularly when it needs to be set off with explanations. The slang could have been left out altogether. It would have made the book shorter and more focused.

There are continuity issues galore. The name of the 19th century Toby’s baby sister changes from Elsie to Emma a few pages later. Somewhere Beatrix’s name changes to Beatrice. Godfrey is spelt without the ‘f’ at one point. The needless fixation with the scenes in the movie versions of Harry Potter is evident, and wears down the reader.

Ripped is a good story that is weighed down by unnecessary slang and some unanswered questions. If only the book were ripped of that dead weight!

I received a free Kindle version of this book from NetGalley.

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