The book’s cover, a photograph of the Golden Gate bridge smothered in fog, opens onto a grisly murder followed by introduction of an adolescent sleuth, a cast of eccentrics as if Nancy Drew had stumbled into Last Night at Twisted River (John Irving). I am too quick; too harsh.
Isabel Allende’s Ripper is a rumba whose South American riff quietly turns pages. Kudos to Ollie Brock and Frank Wynne: their translation imparts in English the wonderful musicality of the book’s native Spanish. As on a dance floor, the reader moves in the arms of every character, getting to know each by his or her insecurities and affected compensations. Allende uses their mundane routines to underpin a plot which deviates from genre Noir’s accepted norms.
Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet, and Colonel Mustard sit this one out as the patients of Indiana, a practitioner of alternative remedies in The Holistic Clinic, a tower of alternate lifestyle, shuffle back and forth, complaining of everything from arthritis and asthma to cancer and PTSD. Indiana is a fixture in the Castro District and around whom several other murders pop up which the amateur sleuth, Indiana’s daughter, and her team of equally amateur sleuths—linked via the internet and engaged in a game from which the book gets its title and references the great London assailant, Jack The—solve with the help of Indiana’s ex-husband, a detective in the San Francisco Police Department, and Indiana’s lover, a former Navy SEAL.
Isabel Allende’s practice, discipline, and experience as an author are apparent in Ripper, a stellar marriage of plot and character to perfect an illusion, though choices have to be made when writing a book. Allowing the bullet to miss its mark, there at the end, must have taken some deliberation.