Author Isabel Allende’s latest novel Ripper is a great departure from her normal work. Ripper is her first foray into mystery writing. Allende, who is better known for her magical realism style of writing, originally intended for her first attempt at a mystery thriller to be a collaborative effort between her and her husband mystery writer, Willie Gordon.
Ripper centers on Amanda Martin and her mother, Indiana, but features an extremely large supporting cast. Amanda is a brilliant yet shy teenager who spends most of her time playing the online role playing game Ripper, in which people solve fictional crimes. When a well-known astrologist predicts a bloodbath in Amanda’s beloved San Francisco, she and her fellow internet misfits decide to start solving real life crimes until their suspect hits a little too close to home.
While the book’s back cover describes the women as only having each other, their stories rarely intersect until the subject of Amanda’s investigation kidnaps Indiana. Amanda spends more time with her grandfather/henchman, Blake Jackson, who helps her in her investigations by wheedling information out of Amanda’s father a Deputy Chief in the SFPD.
Indiana’s story focuses more on her many love affairs and how she manages to unintentionally seduce those around her with her naivety and good looks. Indiana is a new age healer who believes the best of everybody. She is a stark contrast to her daughter who is wise beyond her years and more interested in the darker aspects of human nature. More often than not Amanda parents her.
As for the large cast of extras some are wonderfully written including Amanda’s Ripper friends who each have their own cross to bare and redefine themselves through the game, especially the 19 year-old anorexic who plays under the name Abatha. Blake is easily the most likable character in the book as he lovingly indulges his granddaughter, while harboring the ambition to be an author. Also helping Amanda is her father’s assistant Petra, a hardnosed pixie of a woman who is seemingly in love with her boss. Indiana’s sometimes lover Ryan Miller, a former Navy SEAL is interestingly complex but it his dog Attila, wounded SEAL dog, that steals every scene he is in.
Now with tackling a new genre, I am willing to give a certain amount of leeway to a writer yet the mystery part of the story wasn’t contrived or lacking. The problem with the novel is that it drags because we are given a detailed description of every character and their semi-importance to the story, as well as the author’s added complications of having to go into detail into both Indiana’s and her ex-husband’s dating habits. While it is a trademark of Allende’s work to give detailed character biographies, some served no purpose. I have never read a book in which I couldn’t picture what a character looked like in my mind until I read Ripper. While Allende gives psychological profiles of every character, all we know about Amanda and Indiana is that Amanda has frizzy hair and Indiana is a curvy blond and we had no clue that Amanda’s father Bob had a mustache until almost the end of the book.
With multiple points of view and extraneous information, plus Allende’s unintentional inclusion of magical realism through characters like Indiana, who has the ability to heal others simply with her presence, the sense of urgency that usually accompanies a serial killer thriller loses some (if not all) of its bite.
While the pace of the first half of the novel is slowed down by excess detail, the climax is rushed and a little confusing. What takes Amanda and her team, as well as the police, almost eight deaths to figure out is evident to the reader after the third murder. While Ripper has a good premise and some great characters, the excess takes some of the enjoyment from the story.
If you’re looking to read something other than your textbooks this semester, I wouldn’t recommend Ripper unless you are already a fan of Allende.