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What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper Paperback – September 1, 2010
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"the author does a good job of evoking the grimness of everyday life in the Whitechapel slums."
"An imaginative foray into historical fiction... [What Alice Knew] should reel in students of literature... [and] devotees of period pieces and mysteries."
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Her books are always a joy and make me wish to be someone who would inhabit their pages.I am always thrilled to happen upon a new story.Published 2 months ago by boondocksaint
Very interesting plot. It kept me intrigued all the way along. Sad but interesting reading about Jack The Ripper's exploits and how he or she was never caught. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Susan
The very private author Henry James brought to life by the wonderful Paula Marantz Cohen in a clever suspense tale in which James and his invalid sister Alice, fix their sleuthing... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Yvette68
A decent who-done-it, but the characters were two-dimensional. The story lacked depth and excitement.Published 20 months ago by Pamela Y. S.
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. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Autumn D F Hopkins
Jack the Ripper has been making headlines for his murder spree leading Scotland Yard to call on William James, an up-and-coming forerunner in the new field of psychology. Read morePublished on May 28, 2014 by Shuffy2
I wish you could give 1/2 stars b/c I really enjoyed this book. I wonder whether readers who don't know about the James family will relate. Read morePublished on March 16, 2014 by Cathy W. Gassenheimer
This book kept me interested--couldn't put it down until it was over....best book I've read in a while. Read morePublished on March 5, 2014 by Karen Hanover
Jack the Ripper is one of the most intriguing stories of the 19th century and one of the most written about. Read morePublished on October 19, 2013 by Randee Baty