Over the past few years, Isabel Allende has been trying to stretch her literary abilities by writing in genres outside of those that made her famous. She's dabbled in fantasy (Zorro), historical fiction (Ines of My Soul, Island Beneath The Sea), children's literature (City of Beasts), and even Young Adult (Maya's Notebook). It's admirable that Allende is tackling these styles at a point in her career when many authors at similar junctures would be coasting on their reputations. But, attempting doesn't guarantee succeeding. As is the case with several of her other forays into new territory, Allende proves with Ripper that the skill set which makes one a good novelist doesn't always work when applied to other genres.
Ripper is theoretically the story of a girl and her cohorts who, in the course of playing the game "Ripper", attempt to solve real murders: murders that eventually impact her immediate family. However, Allende establishes early in the book that she's not overly interested in the mystery (in fact, she has one of her characters disparage mysteries by commenting on how easy it is to write one). Instead, Allende is more interested in subjects that her long time readers will recognize: the power of family, the strength of women, the loutish nature of most men, and the role of the slightly supernatural in our lives. When Allende is playing in her usual sandbox of themes, Ripper holds together very well. She meticulously develops her characters, builds plausible scenes with those characters to highlight the themes, and even provides them with realistic dialogue (long a weakness of Allende's). But, so much energy is poured into the character study that the mystery becomes even more of an afterthought than Allende establishes early in the book. Consequently, the murderer becomes obvious (I almost never figure out who the murderer is in mysteries, but I was able to spot the murderer upon their first appearance in Ripper), the method for solving the crime becomes too coincidental for belief, and the ending is simply outlandish. After seeing the slapdash way the mystery is handled, one realizes that they are reading a book that's a "mystery" in marketing only.
Ripper feels like two stories uncomfortably fit into one. One story is a thoughtful character study where a woman tries to decide between two lovers while still maintaining a relationship with her family and friends. But, it seems Allende couldn't figure out where to take that story. So, she tacked on a second story: a mystery involving the woman's daughter and her daughter's friends who attempt to solve crimes. Unfortunately, the mystery does nothing to enhance the character study; and, in fact, weakens it. Again, Allende deserves some credit for trying a new tact in her writing. But, after seeing the results of that attempt, Allende should find an avenue other than mysteries to further develop her skill.
I can not tell you how disappointed I am in this book. Isabel Allende is a great novelist and I was looking forward to her foray into mystery writing. It was so bad that I couldn't believe she has written it. I puzzled whether some non-talented relative wrote this under her name. It is the only scenario that makes sense to me. It has an unbelievable plot full of holes and cardboard characters.
Let's start with the characters. Indiana is Amanda's mother and a holistic healer. She practices Intuitive massage, Reiki, magnet therapy, crystal therapy and aromatherapy. Amazingly, she struggles to make a living. She has an ample diva bosom, a blond mane sinuous curves, long lashes and the "sexiness of a gangsters' moll". Sound a little trite yet? She also dates a man who is a scion of a wealthy San Francisco family who is so embarrassed by the way she dresses that he doesn't take her out in public. Amanda is a typical geeky teen-ager who has a small group of geeky friends that meet on-line and solve crimes. Amanda's father is the SFPD deputy chief of homicide, thankfully,and provides her insider information on cases that her group tries to solve.
It's just as corny as it sounds. It gets more pedestrian. Amanda goes to a party that is raided by the police and she manages to hide out in a carton. Indiana's rich boyfriend suffers from erectile dysfunction. Indiana has the ability to heal by her mere presence. It just goes on and on. Nothing is realistic. Everything makes you roll your eyes. Will it ever get better? No. It just goes from one cliche to another. Stop it.
This book should never have published. It is certainly not up to Allende's standards and I am not sure it would pass a college composition class. It's so very sad. Please don't waste your time with it. You'll be as disappointed as I was.
This is the book. THE BOOK. The one about which I finally stand up and say NO MORE. I have been a fan of Allende's all the way back to the beginning. Eva Luna, House of the Spirits, Of Love and Shadows; these books all blew me away. Her lyrical prose, the magical realism style with which she exposes the corruption of unnamed South American countries and opened my eyes to a different world. Then, along came Daughter of Fortune, a novel set in the gold-rush era in California. I loathed that book and hoped for every character to die an terrible death just so the book would end already. I knew there was no way I'd pick up her next book, Portrait in Sepia, and make it out alive. I didn't read her work again until Maya's Notebook, though Ines of my Soul is on my bookshelf. Maya's Notebook was a semi-crime novel but it took a long way to get to the point. I only enjoyed it because it took me back to South America, a place where I feel Allende brings her best self.
But Ripper? Oh, no, no, NO! I tried, I really did. I read over 200 pages before I finally screamed and threw the book. It is described as "an atmospheric, fast-paced mystery involving a brilliant teenage sleuth who must unmask a serial killer in San Francisco." Oh, really now? Fast-paced? Like a snail maybe. How about as fast as an old man walking up Everest using only a cane? Yeah, about that fast. And the teenage sleuth Amanda? She and her forays into an online game called Ripper which she uses to try and solve a series of crimes happening in San Fransisco are brief interludes between the long, long descriptions and back story of her mother, Indiana, and her many lovers and friends. Of course one them is the killer. I hope it isn't the really obvious one. But I skipped to the end and it is! Shocker.
The long, boring descriptions ruined a good premise. Had it focused more on Amanda and her investigation and her relationship with her grandfather, it would have been better, tons better.
I am realizing more and more than when authors reach a certain status, anything they write will get published and I'm sure no one deigns to edit her highness. If you are going to title your book "Ripper", there are going to be expectations of a decent crime novel. Which this wasn't. Which Allende can't write. But is anyone who works with her going to tell her so? Probably not. She is a highly respected novelist. People write great reviews on crappy work because it makes them feel more literary. Not me. The Emperor wears no clothes and I'm not afraid to say it. I've read great novels. This was not one of those. Do not waste your time or money! $14 for this? Good-bye Isabel, we will not meet again.
on February 1, 2014
I came to this novel with some expectations, unfortunately, all were dashed. I had read about this book, heard the highly praised author on NPR, and taken Amazons high recommendation of it to heart. This was my first encounter with this critically acclaimed author and I was looking forward to it. I actually made it through eighty percent of the book waiting for a thrill from this "thriller" but both my intelligence and my sensibilities were offended. This is not a thriller and not much of a mystery. There is no grasp of police procedural, in fact in the wake of a serial killer we only come to know one police officer along with his "spunky" personal assistant.
I don't want to be a hyper- sensitive politically correct watchdog, but some things must be said. This author's portrayal of LGBT characters is cliched at best and reactionary at worst (save for two female partners who make a brief appearance). We are portrayed as child molesters, self destructive waiters/drag performers (nothing wrong with a drag performer, but it saddens me that some straight people are still only comfortable with a gay man if he is in a dress) and at worst one of fiction's most tired and offensive cliches, a homicidal maniac of a cross dresser (no, it is not the waiter) Put this together with unbelievable premise and unlikely leaps of faith, and you have a novel that simply does not deliver on any of it's promise.
on January 28, 2014
Let me start this review by saying that when I went to add Ripper to my Goodreads “currently reading” list, I was dismayed to see the plethora of low star ratings. I couldn’t understand it – surely it was a bunch of people who didn’t know what they were talking about. You see, this is not my first Allende book and I was confident that I knew her style, I knew what she was capable of and there was just no way that she could put out anything that would merit less than four stars from me.
Then I started to read Ripper. I cannot tell you of the depths of my disappointment, folks. The only thing that kept me going through this story was sheer stubbornness. I wanted Allende to redeem herself, to step out of this box she created that just screamed inexperienced author and do something brilliant. For a moment, I even entertained the idea that the writing was somehow part of the story, that it would come out that there was a twist and there was a reason she was writing the way she was.
So what was so bad? Allende’s writing in Ripper reminded me of some pretty cheesy urban paranormal novels I’ve read. Constant referring to the Navy SEAL (many times in place of his name), a constant reminder of what the strengths and weaknesses of various characters were. A systematic, and very predictive, plot that left absolutely no surprises. Those are a few of the most glaring things that went wrong here. To be honest, at times I felt like I was reading something that was part-Harlequin romance, part dime-novel thriller.
That’s not to say there wasn’t some good things – although those were too few and far between. I did enjoy the initial character sketch of each major player. Allende relied on her characters to tell the story and she just relied too much on them. Instead of developing the stories after the characters had been fleshed out, she continued to go back and flesh them out more and more until I felt like I was reading the equivalent of a broken record to the ear.
Folks, you don’t even know how hard it is to write this review because I was really, really excited to get my hands on Ripper and I was really excited to read it. I bumped it to the top of my list and dove in, positive that I would love it and that everyone else would be wrong. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Pass this one by and go read something else by Allende instead.
This book is embarassingly bad. S-l-o-w and puerile. It's hard to believe that such an accomplished writer could go so far astray. The lead character Indiana is a Barbie-doll with a Valley-girl manner of speaking. The hero, a Navy SEAL is cartoonishly unbelievable. Indiana's daughter ... No. I'll stop. There's just no point to going on. These are plastic people I couldn't care about in the least. Ripper is a failed effort and not worth the time it takes to slog through the 400+ pages. Give this one a miss. Spare yourself the tedium.
on March 29, 2015
Wow. I expected better from Ms. Allende. This was so bad. The story was bad. The "mysticalness" was lame. The writing was terrible. The dialog was stilted and clumsy, unnatural. Never use monologues and dialog for exposition. This one was disappointing in so many ways. Even the final twist wasn't a twist. It was unsurprising. I wish I hadn't read this and ruined my memories of Isabel Allende as a great writer. Also, the Ripper kids had pretty much nothing to do with the story. So unsatisfying in so many ways.
And what was up with the background details of every single character, even the tiniest ones? Who cares? Did she have a word quota to fill?
This book baffled me. Published within a year of Maya's Notebook, it is Ms. Allende's first suspense novel, but alas, is not a successful one. I found myself leaping over chunks of narrative (unusual to do in the case of thrillers where each page may present a clue, but it seems as if there was little if any editing performed on the manuscript. According to amazon, the book will run just over 500 pages, and easily could have had 200 cut, providing a snappier pace. Much of what would not be missed are dead end alleys, overblown writing, repetitive description.
Maya's Notebook was written for Ms. Allende's grandchildren (her words), and this may be a further attempt at such, seeing as how there's an abnormally prescient nerd of a teen aged heroine and a dog that is almost human. But the characters are cookie cutter, and that's being kind. What I did like was that the book was written with an insider's view on the Bay Area.
Isabel Allende is an award-winning Chilean author and journalist who has been a longtime favorite of this reader, so it was natural that when her new book was announced, it got my attention. But there are times when one needs to realize that any author can release a book that is not up to previous works.
Ripper is a fast-paced mystery, full of character, involving a bright teenage sleuth who is determined to expose a serial killer in San Francisco. Teenage Amanda is the primary character, and she enjoys playing Ripper, an online mystery game that she plays with other teen from around the world. When a series of bizarre murders occurs in San Francisco, the players decide to put their detective skills to work. Using the info that they find on the Web, in the news and from Amanda's father, the Homicide Deputy Chief, Amanda and the other Ripper players become obsessed with their search for the serial killer.
But Amanda's mother is kidnapped. The clues point to it being the work of the killer they've been tracking. The Ripper players, with the assistance of a former Navy SEAL turned artificial intelligence professional, race against time to stop the killer from claiming yet another victim. This is also with the assistance of a faithful dog, which happens to have titanium teeth.
Without leaving any spoilers, if this sounds good to you, then by all means, you will probably enjoy this tale. For this reader, it fell rather flat, as it does get convoluted where simple would do the trick.
The author's 2003 memoir, My Invented Country, offers the reader a look into her past, including the convoluted history and politics of Chile, where she spent much of her childhood. This is probably my favorite of her works, as her skills as a writer and journalist shine through. Her 1998 offering, Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses, was a fascinating book where the author used her storytelling skills to bring to mind the delights of food and mixed with sensuality.
But Ripper just did not live up to personal expectations. There are some brilliant passages throughout, where Isabel Allende's way with words shines through, and if you're a fan of her other works, then this one is probably worth it.
◆ [Update 2/16/2014]
Since my original review here, have had some second thoughts about my original 3-star rating of this title. I've decided to leave it as originally posted, and will keep my personal thoughts and observations to the comments section here.
JW ▪ 11/21/2013; Updated 2/16/2014
on May 9, 2014
Ripper is described as a fast-paced mystery involving a macabre internet role-playing game that crosses over into real-life murders. In reality, what we get is a meandering character drama full of tired stereotypes, with some weak mystery elements tacked on awkwardly. While I appreciate Allende's attempt to take crime fiction in a new direction, the result here is a swampy mess. It's as if she forgot what the point of her book was, wrote long digressive character studies for a few hundred pages, then went back and sprinkled in a few dozen pages of "mystery" afterwards.
If we ignore the mystery elements completely and treat the book as a pure character drama, it's mildly entertaining, but lacks a clear plot and goes on too many long tangents to nowhere. Still, there's something worthwhile there if it could be separated from the rest and re-worked into a stand-alone novel. But as it stands, and combined with the unsatisfying mystery sub-plot and frustrating characterization, this is a much worse than average book. Coming from a well-respected author like Allende, I was surprised. My 1 star rating doesn't mean it's the worst book ever, but it's certainly in the bottom 20% for what I consider major league fiction from name-brand authors.
The principal characters are dull stereotypes: the attractive, space cadet blond whom every man wants, the muscular but not so bright ex-jock, the brilliant geeky teenager. They're almost a parody of bad characterization, and while we get lots of detail on their physical appearance, we never really get to know them or see them do anything to lift them out of 2D cardboard character status. A few minor characters are more interesting - Petra Horr, the spunky and wise assistant to the chief of homicide, and Doña Encarnación, the matriarch of a successful immigrant family - but we don't see enough of these characters, and they only serve to add a little flavor around the edges of the plot. The only major character with much interesting development is Alan Keller, a 50-something socialite and playboy who belatedly begins to appreciate the simple things in life and the opportunities he's wasted.
The mystery plot line feels forced and awkward. For the most part, the mystery develops in spite of the unfolding character drama, rather than connecting to it. It's almost like two wholly unrelated plot lines that don't converge until near the end of the book, with the mystery seemingly forgotten for long stretches until it's abruptly picked up again. Readers who like a mystery that's a puzzle to be solved, searching for clues and hidden meanings, will be disappointed here. The mystery is just a series of events that's ultimately explained by dumping a pile of new facts on the reader in the final chapters - facts that were never hinted at or able to be guessed. It's an unsatisfying way to tie everything together.
The internet role-playing game that gives the book its title was a big disappointment. I had imagined an interesting story on how events in a fictional game universe might spill over into the real world, but instead the so-called game is just a video conference of teenagers speaking in affected accents. These teens have bizarre powers such as the ability to manipulate memories and commune with the dead, which are never explored or explained. None of them ever figure into the plot, and I found the whole Ripper game topic absurd and distracting.
The book includes several significant sub-plots that never really go anywhere. Perhaps these were intended as character development, but as the characters being developed are mostly minor ones, they do little beyond adding filler to the book and further burying the mystery plot line. If you enjoy reading about dog fighting, raves, and genital mutilation, maybe you'll like these, otherwise they could be entirely deleted without losing anything.
Although there are a few pearls to be found in the character drama and some of the minor character stories, Ripper is overall a strikingly poor novel, especially coming from a major author like Allende. It would be interesting to learn how it went so wrong.