Friday, July 18, 2014

Review: Ripper by Isabel Allende

RipperRipper by Isabel Allende
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've enjoyed everything I've read of Isabel Allende's. I'm not generally a mystery reader, but I thought I'd give this one a chance, to see if Allende really is that versatile.

Amanda Martín is a teenager obsessed with true crime. She takes part in an online roleplaying game that starts off devoted to solving the Jack the Ripper mystery. It soon moves on to modern crimes. When her astrologist godmother predicts a "bloodbath" in San Francisco, Amanda turns her players' attention to finding a connection between recent unsolved murders. Meanwhile, her father, Bob Martín, investigates the murders in his capacity as detective. Indiana Jackson, Amanda's flaky mother, is all too happy to ignore the terrible crimes, until she becomes the target.

Much of the plot revolves around Ryan Miller, a Navy SEAL and war veteran who's missing one leg. He's friends with Indiana and her daughter, and is in love with Indiana. He becomes a target of the investigation after the murders hit close to home, and the narrative sows enough doubt that only a familiarity with the murder mystery formula eliminates suspicion.

The story has a slow build. It isn't until the last third of the book that the pieces come together and the tension really picks up. When it comes, the reader realizes why all these disparate pieces of information were dropped in. There's no time to pause to figure out where a person fits in the story once it really picks up.

The timeline is somewhat nonlinear. By that I mean, the core of the story progresses from January to April 2012, with frequent stops in the past. It flits around, often jumping entire decades from one paragraph to the next. I was sometimes lost in the narrative, unable to determine if we were in modern day or in the midst of another flashback. Eventually, the context would reveal it, but it could be disorienting.

This is no simple murder mystery. It's not unique in being a murder mystery with mystical elements, though they're subtly done. The book also explores topics like PTSD, online friendships, trust, the pitfalls of genius, war, guilt, with a few sly literary references tossed in. Blake Jackson, Amanda's grandfather, is talking about writing a book, and he discusses the process and research within the narrative.

I don't think I'm familiar enough with mystery novels to call this a success as a mystery. As a book, it's well-crafted. The ending hit me hard, but it was the ending this book needed.

I listened to this book on audio, narrated by Edoardo Ballerini. He has the sort of voice that suits a mystery novel, and a good familiarity with the accents the narrative called for, but he sounded strange, reading female dialogue. The audio quality sometimes turned sibilant sounds into a piercing whistle, which made turning up the volume a risky proposition.

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