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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More about the characters than the mystery for me...
What Alice Knew is an utterly original historical mystery. Paula Marantz Cohen has taken many well known historical figures and incorporated them as the characters in this period tale. Novelist Henry James, his psychologist brother William and their bedridden sister Alice are the main protagonists, but others such as Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and John Singer Sargent figure...
Published on September 13, 2010 by Luanne Ollivier

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What Alice Knew
What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James & Jack the Ripper is Paula Marantz Cohen's first novel. The plotline is luscious for any lover of historical fiction or mystery. The three James siblings- Henry the mildly successful author, William the brilliant psychologist and Alice the keenly observant invalid- investigate the Jack the Ripper murders as they take...
Published on December 12, 2010 by Chapati


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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More about the characters than the mystery for me..., September 13, 2010
What Alice Knew is an utterly original historical mystery. Paula Marantz Cohen has taken many well known historical figures and incorporated them as the characters in this period tale. Novelist Henry James, his psychologist brother William and their bedridden sister Alice are the main protagonists, but others such as Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and John Singer Sargent figure prominently.

And of course - Jack the Ripper. Cohen brings 1888 London, England to life with her descriptions of locales and social customs. But it is the dialogue and interactions between the characters that provide such a fresh inventive look at a event that has been covered many times before. The conversations between the siblings is witty, clever and very entertaining. The character of Alice is especially engaging - her self imposed bed rest seems at odds with her quick and intelligent mind, but she is self aware. When we get a glimpse at her vulnerabilities, she becomes all the more authentic. Of all the historical figures, I enjoyed her portrayal the most.

"...that the solution to these horrific crimes requires the three of us. Henry, to observe the social world where I sense the murder lurks and to plumb his friends and acquaintances for gossip. William, to study the physical evidence through his contact with the police and to supply psychological analysis where needed.

And you? William asked in amused wonder. What will you do?

Me? She levelled her intelligent gaze at her brothers. I will review what you gather....and solve the case."

Cohen has presented a 'solution' to the Ripper mystery that is both plausible and unique. But the fun in this book is the journey not the resolution. Highly entertaining.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What Alice Knew, December 12, 2010
What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James & Jack the Ripper is Paula Marantz Cohen's first novel. The plotline is luscious for any lover of historical fiction or mystery. The three James siblings- Henry the mildly successful author, William the brilliant psychologist and Alice the keenly observant invalid- investigate the Jack the Ripper murders as they take place, trying to determine through psychology and social observation who must have committed the murders.

Sounds exciting, right? Unfortunately, I don't think it was nearly as exciting as it could have been. I admit I haven't read too many of Henry James' books, but The Turn of the Screw is one I read several years ago and still serves to give me a deliciously creepy shiver up and down my back when I think of it. James was a master of the unreliable narrator and wrote amazingly well. In this book, he was portrayed as an insecure, fat alcoholic who just wanted the approval of his elder brother. It's possible that Henry James did feel insecure and maybe he was an alcoholic and quite possibly he wanted his older brother to like him. But there was also keen insight, wittiness and a very real kind of genius in him and I don't think Cohen brought that out at all. Nor does she allow us to see Henry's neuroses develop. She tells us flat out exactly what Henry thinks. For example:

"But William had always treated him dismissively, had viewed his life as frivolous, and had denigrated his writing, if only by failing to read it. These things pained Henry deeply, though he pretended not to care. For more even than social acclaim and fortune, more even than literary immortality, he desired the good opinion of his older brother."

Really, I think this point would have been much better made through less obvious methods, allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about what must have been a very complex relationship between the two brothers. And Cohen gives Alice and William the same treatment- we are told exactly what they think and feel in this heavy-handed manner and do not get the opportunity to draw our own conclusions.

And if that is how the story is just for character development, then I think you can guess that the murder mystery also proceeds at a somewhat clunky manner. In many ways, I found the mystery investigation more interesting. I liked the way the new and budding fields of psychology and photography were used. But in general, this story did not grip me at all in the way one would expect a Victorian era novel featuring a family of famous siblings investigating one of history's most infamous serial killers to do.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Many-Splendoured Treat, March 20, 2011
This book is a page turner. It is a mystery; it is a historical period piece; it is a piece of literary and cultural criticism. It makes a famous family--as well as some ancillary characters on the London scene at the fin of the last siecle--come alive. Henry, William, and especially Alice James are beautifully limned, and Cohen is adept at capturing the cultural and aesthetic issues and tensions of the Aesthetic movement. When Jack the Ripper (whoever he may have been) can enter the world of fiction and keep a reader's attention as forcefully as fictional characters, and real ones do, you know you are in the presence of a writer of sophistication, depth and substance. Also of wit and suspense.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars nice historical read, March 19, 2011
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In this historical mystery, Henry James, his sister Alice and his brother William try to solve the identity of Jack the Ripper. William lives in America but has come to London at the request of Scotland Yard to help them solve these crimes, using his psychological training. Alice, who is bedridden is determined to help, using information from William's investigation and Henry's observations. Other historical figures also make appearances: Mark Twain, John Singer Sergeant, Oscar Wilde, and Walter Sickert.

The story is told through the eyes of each of the James'. I loved being in London, 1888. The author did a fantastic job of creating that atmosphere; the art, the literature,the theater, and of making real characters come alive in this fictional novel.
I thought the author also nicely portrayed how politics played a role in the search for the killer and how the police looked at psychology as an investigative tool at that time.Though mostly bedridden, one does not feel sorry for Alice, she is very smart and is happy with her life. She definitely knows how to keep her brothers in line as they argue about who Jack's real identity is. The dialogue is sharp and witty and clever.

What Alice Knew is an interesting look at one of history's biggest mysteries, while being very entertaining. I don't know how factual the book actually is, but I don't really care. It kept me engaged and interested.

my rating 4/5
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly mundane, November 11, 2014
This review is from: What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper (Kindle Edition)
This was one of those books that you think you'll love, that you feel obligated to finish once you have started and that never really catches your interest. I prodded through the novel never really getting attached to any of the characters but not hating them enough to stop reading. It was blah at best which was particularly sad because I expected it to be fascinating.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written..., August 15, 2013
By 
Deeperdarker (Montrose, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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Amazingly well written... characters, time, and place feel so alive and vibrant... tore through it, hated for it to end...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What Alice Knew, June 7, 2013
By 
Lauren Johnson (Santa Clara, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper (Kindle Edition)
Henry, William, and Alice are trying to catch a killer, a killer by the name of Jack the Ripper to be exact. Using their combined knowledge and skills they must pull together to come up with his identity.

This book was entertaining, one of the many great fictional interpretations of the murders. I found the characters to be quite compelling with my favorite being Henry for his wit followed by Alice for her enthusiasm. If you are a fan of Jack the Ripper stories I would recommend reading this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, March 19, 2013
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This review is from: What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper (Kindle Edition)
An easy and engaging book to read. I would recommend this book to friends. An easy book to get into.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a look into the literary life, February 10, 2013
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This review is from: What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper (Kindle Edition)
What Alice knew is probably not the best title for the book. The best part of the book was the look into the high art and literature society of London. I pictured myself at the dinner table enjoying the banter between Oscar Wilde and the James brothers. . Alice herself seemed to be an intelligent woman caught up in an imagined invalid state. She was perceptive yet live as an outsider viewing society from her bed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Clever Perspective, January 29, 2013
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This review is from: What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper (Kindle Edition)
I thought this was a great way to explore both the James siblings and the tale of Jack the Ripper. The writing was excellent, and the story was smart and believable. Nicely done!
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