As I mentioned in my May Reading Wrap Up, I recently finished reading the Stalking Jack the Ripper series by Kerri Maniscalco. I started this series around the time when the first book came out in 2016, and then I was paused on it for a bit and read the last two books this year. I thoroughly enjoyed the series, and it is one that I am already thinking about re-reading, so I thought that I would do a series wrap up with my overall thoughts.
The Stalking Jack the Ripper series is a Young Adult mystery/thriller/historical fiction series set in the late 1800’s. The first book is set in London during the Ripper murders (as the names implies), but the series does not stay in London and later books explore other historical events and figures such as Vlad the Impaler, Houdini, and the White City Devil.
For this wrap up, I’m going to give a brief synopsis of each book and then I will sum up my thoughts on the series in a few points. I am going to keep this wrap up spoiler free. There are a few things (such as mention of a romance), that could be considered spoilers, but they are mentioned on the backs of the later books, or in the Goodreads descriptions, so I’m going to consider them not spoilers… And I promise I won’t go into detail about those “border line” topics.
I want to note that I listened to all 4 books on audiobook, and thoroughly enjoyed them in that format. If you enjoy listening to audiobooks, these are ones that I would highly recommend checking out.
Book #1 – Stalking Jack the Ripper
Throughout the series we follow our main character Audrey Rose Wadsworth, and we see the events through her eyes. She would much rather spend her time in her Uncles’ laboratory learning about forensics and investigating murders than in engaging in the typical societal pursuits. In this first instalment, Audrey Rose, her Uncle, and her new, often aggravating acquaintance, Thomas Cresswell, are right in the middle of the Jack the Ripper investigations. The investigation quickly becomes personal as Audrey Rose and her companions rush to discover the identity of Jack the Ripper and put an end to his reign of terror.
Book #2 – Hunting Prince Dracula
In this story, we leave London and follow Audrey Rose and Thomas to a school of forensic medicine in the heart of Romania. The school is located in the castle of Prince Vlad the Impaler – also known as Vlad Dracula – making the setting dark, creepy, and atmospheric. Our main characters are once again faced with a series of murders to investigate, these ones bearing a terrifying resemblance to those of the Impaler. The lines between myth and reality become blurred as Thomas and Audrey Rose, along with a number of new characters, rush to identify and stop the killer.
Book #3 – Escaping From Houdini
In this book, we once again follow Audrey Rose, Thomas and her Uncle, this time as they embark on a week long voyage across the Atlantic travelling from London to New York. They are to be entertained nightly on their voyage by a troupe of circus performers, fortune tellers and a daring young escape artist (three guesses who…) The voyage is not destined to be one of pleasure only, however, as young women begin to go missing and then people begin to die in brutal and shocking ways. Thomas and Audrey Rose must rush to figure out who the murderer is before they arrive at their destination, and before someone close to Audrey Rose comes to harm.
Book #4 – Capturing the Devil
In this finale, Audrey Rose, Thomas and her Uncle are on the hunt for the elusive killer known as the White City Devil. In this instalment our main characters travel from New York to Chicago in the hopes of capturing the killer who has not only been hunting in New York, but who they suspect to be connected to the murders on their voyage across the Atlantic, Thomas and Audrey Rose find themselves in the middle of an investigation that threatens to turn deadly at every turn.
1) History with a twist
One of the things I loved the most about this series was the way Maniscalco took historical events and people as inspiration but then expanded on the well know stories to create new and exciting plot lines. Knowing the true stories, especially in the case of Books 1 and 2 for me, didn’t take away from the plot of these books in anyway because Maniscalco came up with ways to make the stories fresh and unpredictable. The world the books are set in is clearly our own, and yet not quite ours all at once.
2) The Second Book Slump?
I have long enjoyed books that combine the history of Vlad the Impaler with a touch (or more) of the mythical and fantastical. And this book was no exception. The mix of legend and reality in the story was well executed and throughly enjoyable, but for some reason, looking back, something about this one fell just a bit flat. I can’t put my finger on why – maybe second book syndrome? – but this book was probably my least favourite of the series.
3) Thomas and Audrey Rose’s Relationship
I loved this aspect of the series. It may not be for everyone, and I read a couple reviews from people who thought the romance/friendship was given too much space and time as the series went along, but I really enjoyed it. I especially liked the way their friendship and relationship grew and developed over the course of the series. Both Thomas and Audrey Rose made mistakes and they hav disagreements to work through, but they also grew in their relationship and learned how to compromise, respect each other and communicate. And I really liked that aspect of the story.
4) Character Development and Growth
Along the same lines as my previous point, I enjoyed how both Audrey Rose and Thomas changed over the course of the series. Neither are exactly the same people in book 4 as they were in book 1. They both grow and change and are impacted by the events that they face in each book. I was impressed with how Maniscalco had her characters grow and develop as individuals along with growing in their relationship.
5) The Connecting Plots
Each book in the series centres around a different mystery and investigation. Despite this, you really shouldn’t read the books out of order. There is a story line, outside of the character development and relationships, that connects the entire series. Jumping in out of order would leave you missing references and feeling quite confused. Sometimes with thriller and mystery series’ it can be difficult to have a balance between a new, gripping mystery and series development and growth in each book, and I thought Maniscalco did a good job finding this balance.
6) A few miscellaneous “cons”
Very few books or series get everything right all the time, and this series is no exception. Though I would say that the pros for this series definitely outweigh the cons. One thing that took me out of the story frequently was Maniscalco’s tendency to overstate some of the themes or points she was trying to get across. While I almost always agreed with the points, and understand that we were supposed to be seeing the themes through Audrey Rose’s perspective, it felt a tad heavy handed at times. This improved as the series went on and these points were less clunky by book 4
My only other complaint would be the loose ends. I think it’s good when a series doesn’t tie up all loose ends or storylines. I like to be left feeling like the characters are going to continue living and having adventures after the last cover closes. But there were a few things in this series, in particular with relation to certain side characters, that I would have liked answers to, or a little bit more information about.
One other thing I would like to mention before we wrap up is that something a bit odd happens as part of the conclusion to Book 1. I thought it was an interesting twist, but I can see it being the type of thing that turns some off from the series. I would say, though, that if you didn’t love that part but enjoyed the characters and the rest of the story, it might be worth checking out the rest of the series.
I highly enjoyed this series, and would give it an overall rating of 4 stars. This isn’t an average, I gave a couple of the books 3 star ratings, but since the last two books have made me want to re-read the series, and pick up something else by Maniscalco, I think that 4 is what I am going to settle on for overall rating. Consider it a “whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts” type of situation.
If you enjoy mysteries and thrillers with a touch of fantasy and a solid side of friendship and romance, then you should definitely pick this series up. The characters are fun and exciting and I enjoy that the author is exploring forensic medicine and investigation against a Jack the Ripper time period and back drop.
Have you read any books in this series? If so, what did you think of them? Can you recommend to me any other mystery/thrillers similar to this series?