Friday, September 24, 2010

What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper by Paula Marantz Cohen

Under Certain Circumstances, No One Is More Suited to Solving a Crime than a Woman Confined to Her Bed

An invalid for most her life, Alice James is quite used to people underestimating her. And she generally doesn't mind. But this time she is not about to let things alone. Yes, her brother Henry may be a famous author, and her other brother William a rising star in the new field of psychology. But when they all find themselves quite unusually involved in the chase for a most vile new murderer-one who goes by the chilling name of Jack the Ripper-Alice is certain of two things:

No one could be more suited to gather evidence about the nature of the killer than her brothers. But if anyone is going to correctly examine the evidence and solve the case, it will have to be up to her.

I saw this book mentioned on a blog at some point and thought it looked interesting. It is entirely something that I would not have read if it wasn't for book blogging. I am really interested in the Jack the Ripper aspect of the book, but have no interest in Henry James. Actually, I have never read Henry James before, so while he is an aspiring author in the book and I know that he has written a few famous things, I didn't really know anything else about him until I read this book. I am not the person to ask if it seems true to form.

Anyway, I am not sure what I thought of this book. I didn't love it. There were times where I actually skimmed a bit because I wasn't too interested in what was going on. Sometimes knowing what is going to happen is interesting and works in a book, but with this book it didn't seem to be working for me. I thought it was great that the author imagined what Alice was capable of lying in bed watching the world go by, but we all know that the Jack the Ripper murders were never solved. It is this fact, and the brutality of the crimes, that makes people so fascinated with the man. I was curious whether the author was going to solve the crime and write a very fictional book, or whether they were going to think they solved the crime and then find out later that they hadn't. In the end, I think I was more interested in Jack the Ripper than the mystery. I only found the James family interesting when their characters were developing.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book, though, is all the cameos from famous personalities from the time. There is Oscar Wilde, Samuel Clemens, du Maurier, etc. There are also famous painters, but I admit that I am a bit clueless when it comes to famous artists. The book did interest me enough to finish it, but I was disappointed in a way that I can't seem to put my finger on. Something just didn't work for me. I am not sure if it was her writing style, disinterest in the outcome in the plot, or something that I can't see. Also, my library claims it is an adult book, but to me, it seemed like a young adult book. Maybe that's it. I was look for adult reading because I am getting tired of young adult lately and this didn't really seem adult.

I don't even know what to say. I'd like to look at some of the details, but I don't want to ruin the book for anyone.

I really liked the cover, though. Isn't it great?

Has anyone else read this book? What were your thoughts on it?

This counts as another read for the R.I.P. Challenge.


  1. I haven't read it but have it on my wish list. I think I pick books like this just because of RIP !! lol

  2. It doesn't sound completely uninteresting. I like Henry James a lot but that is probably not important for liking this or not. I just wrote something on my blog but maybe you won't see it. I finally got Bitten and will read it and I rembered something from my childhood, I am French, I don't know if you knew, anyway, my grandmother was from Brittany and all our family firmly believed in werewolves, so did I. They all do in Brittany. Why did I forget this? Odd. And that is why I loved the movie The Company of Wolves, maybe you would like it.

  3. Anonymous3:50 PM

    I haven't read it yet, but I'm planning on it. I won't have my expectations too high, though.

  4. I felt very similarly about this book. It was interesting enough, but I had absolutely nothing to say about it at all, which is why it was one of my shorter reviews lately.

  5. Too bad you didnt enjoy it too much. It sounds like it could be a good read. The Jack the Ripper mystery is a fascinating one.
    Great review.

  6. Pat: Same here!

    Caroline: I will look into The Company of Wolves. I am glad you are going to read BITTEN!

    carolsnotebook: I hope you like it more.

    Jen: Yeah, there wasn't much to say... I didn't even really know what to say!

    naida: I really like Jack the Ripper, but it just didn't work for me.

  7. I think it sounds interesting, maybe it's the historical fiction factor. I've read a few Henry James and it's definitely not quick reading.

  8. I read and reviewed it here. Interesting in some ways, but like you, it didn't quite come together for me.

  9. Care: Maybe I would have liked it more if I was more familiar with Henry James?

    Jenclair: I think you are where I heard of it from. :)


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