Review: From Whitechapel: A Novel of Jack the Ripper by Melanie Clegg

This is one of those books I feel like I’ve been waiting for for about 1000 years. OK, that’s a bit of an overstatement but once I found out Melanie Clegg was writing a “Ripper book” I knew I had to have it. I’ve read her work before, mainly in topic areas I’m less familiar with, perhaps even less interested in, if that doesn’t sound awful. 19th century London however, I love. The inner working of any Victorian period city fascinates me and of course the period Jack the Ripper was at large is especially interesting. From Whitechapel is based slap bang in the middle of it all, intertwines so much research and so many fictionalised versions of real people who lived it’s simply impossible not to get drawn in and start (virtually) turning those pages.

The summary before I start fawning:

There was a pain, a terrible empty, lonely ache of sorrow and loss, within my ribcage while my heart felt like it had turned to ashes. This then was the end of my journey, this then was the answer that I had sought for so long, this then was the secret that Whitechapel had been withholding from me…

Alice Redmayne, beautiful daughter of a famous artist, has been haunted since childhood by the mysterious disappearance of her sister Beatrice but when she resolves to discover what happened all those years ago she finds herself enmeshed in the dark secrets of the past and caught between two very different men.

Emma Johnson was working in a brothel in Calais when a terrible mistake turned her whole world upside down and forced her to go on the run to Whitechapel, the one place where she was sure she could never be found. There she believes herself safe from the horrors of the past until her pursuer reveals his murderous intent and puts everyone she holds dear at risk.

Cora Lee is the youngest daughter of a H Division Sergeant, living above the Whitechapel Police Station on Commercial Street. Bored with her life and longing to escape, she makes a split second decision that will change everything and turn her whole world upside down.

Set against the infamous Jack the Ripper murders of autumn 1888 and based on the author’s own family history, From Whitechapel is a dark and sumptuous tale of bittersweet love, friendship, loss and redemption.

Aside from non-fiction my reading in and around Jack the Ripper’s crimes is limited so it was truly fascinating to have them brought to life for me in fiction. To the extent that I’m now seeking out further novels that offer the same rich and vivid picture of Whitechapel in the late 19th century.

From Whitechapel moves quickly but still allows the reader to get a full and rounded picture of each of the leading characters. I particularly enjoyed Alice’s story, as through Emma we already know where her story is leading although there is an even bigger climactic shock towards the end – I didn’t get any of the hints leading to the truth which made it a huge surprise.

The author’s research is so cleverly intertwined as each of the murders take place there is a personal touch added, we find out something about the victim beforehand whether it’s simply her last words or what the other girls thought of her. This really brought them to life for me and made me seek out more information about each of the “canonical five”.

I also love the detail included, no element is allowed to go by without scrutiny and the richness of the descriptions made every scene feel all the more real. This is simply the perfect style for a novel with actual historical events behind it.

My favourite thing about this novel is the angle in which it comes from however. Everything I have ever read or watched in relation to Jack the Ripper has always been just that, almost solely focused on the mysterious murderer. Instead, Clegg lets us see things from perspective of the women and in this way it reminded me a lot of Wake by Anna Hope which I adored recently.

This novel lived up to all my expectations and went beyond them. It’s definitely one for the reread pile.

Rating: ★★★★★