In The Ripper’s Wife, Brandy Purdy marries two true stories: that of Jack the Ripper, whose identity remains unknown (unless you believe this), and the story of James and Florence Maybrick. While some evidence suggests that James Maybrick was the Ripper, none of it is authenticated.
When you choose to read a novel about Jack the Ripper, you can’t expect it to be wildly pleasant. I didn’t know the real story of James and Florence Maybrick, but if you do, you know that’s not very pleasant either. Readers shouldn’t go into this book expecting a heartwarming story that will leave them feeling good.
THE PLOT: Florence Chandler and James Maybrick meet on a ship and have a whirlwind courtship. Florie is 18 and American. Maybrick is English and in his 40s, but these differences don’t matter as much to them as they do to others. They marry, have a magical honeymoon, and settle in Jim’s home…and that’s where everything goes wrong. Jim is a hypochondriac addicted to arsenic, strychnine, cough syrups, and various other snake-oil remedies. When Florie discovers his well-stocked medicine cabinet, he hits her, beginning a long career of brutal wife-beating. They live with Jim’s two brothers: Michael, who hates her, and Edwin, who wants Florie for himself. Florie is introduced to Jim’s “old friend” Mrs. Briggs, a woman jilted by Jim for Florie, yet who somehow has the running of his household. Once children enter the picture, Mrs. Briggs hires the horrible Nanny Yapp, who also defies Florie at every turn (along with wearing her clothes).
When Florie discovers that Jim is unfaithful on top of everything else, she starts an affair with his business partner. Jim finds out immediately, and this triggers him to become Jack the Ripper. He wants to kill his “wife-whore,” but he doesn’t want his children affected by the notoriety they would receive if their father murdered their mother. He murders prostitutes in her place and delights in confounding the police. When Jim becomes truly ill, he reveals his actions to Florie. But when he dies, everyone conspires to have Florie convicted of his murder.
MY TWO CENTS: I’d like to read a different Brandy Purdy book and see if I really like her writing style. The book is mostly in first person from Florie’s point of view, except for the excerpts from Jim’s diary, in which he chronicles his career as the Ripper in great detail. It’s a mess of repetitive blathering, overlong descriptions of the prostitutes’ backgrounds (especially Mary Kelly’s), and extremely foul language. What you’d expect to find in the diary of a madman, but not enjoyable reading! Even without the Ripper parts, the story of Florie Maybrick is hideously depressing. Before her conviction, she lives as the plaything of various men. She doesn’t have one single ally. She’s the “crass American” in an English world, so she has no friends. She’s not even allowed to run the household or raise her children. The only joy she gets out of life is from compulsive shopping. Of course, after her conviction, things are worse. She spends 15 years in prison, and when released, her children want nothing to do with her. Her life continues a downward spiral until she’s destitute, completely alone, and living in a fantasy world.
Otherwise, the book isn’t badly written, although some readers won’t enjoy all the descriptions of settings and items. There are also a few really convenient plot points, like Florie meeting her grown son on the day he “accidentally” drinks poison, or being in the right places at the right time to view some of her adult daughter’s tragic life.
BOTTOM LINE: The book did elicit a strong emotional response from me, but it’s not one that I would want others to experience! I would really only recommend this book if you are a Brandy Purdy fan or interested in Ripper lore. I mostly enjoyed the writing style, though, and would like to read a different book by this author.
TEACUP RATING: Two-and-a-half out of five teacups. I couldn’t stop reading it, but afterward, I kind of wish I had.
WARNING: This book contains graphic descriptions of drug abuse, violence, and extremely foul language. If these are things you don’t appreciate, I recommend avoiding.
ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in paperback and eformats on October 28, 2014.
Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.