Carver Young has always lived by his wits. Being raised in an orphanage, he has learned of life the hard way. Most of his time has been occupied trying to stay out of the way of the much bigger, bullying Finn (Phineas) Walker. The rest has been spent using his nails to get in and out of almost any door in the building. Carver seems to have a knack for opening locks. Life in the orphanage is okay, but not great. His ultimate dream is to become a great detective someday --- like the ones he reads about in his dime novels.
"Readers undoubtedly will hang on to every sentence as the secrets unfold and unbelievable truths splash, like blood, over the pages of this darkly intriguing adventure."
Now the old orphanage has been sold, and the newer facility will house only children under 13. Carver can’t remember any other life, and at 14, it has been decided that he, along with Finn and his friend Delia Stephens, will have to find other accommodations. Headmistress Miss Petty has made some arrangements for Prospective Parents Day and is hopeful that the orphans will find new homes.
For the time being, Carver has been able to access some of his files --- because of his great skill at opening locks. He is shocked and surprised to find a letter written by his father. It’s a very strange letter, making references to blood, knives and Carver’s ear-shaped birthmark. While the note doesn’t make much sense to him, it gives him hope that his father is somewhere out there waiting, and when he gets out of the orphanage, he will have the opportunity to find him. He knows that with the help of New York’s police commissioner, Teddy Roosevelt, he might be able to track him down. He writes Roosevelt a letter and waits anxiously for a reply.
Meanwhile, the children are adopted right away, and despite a very bad beginning, Carver actually becomes the ward of none other than the great Pinkerton detective, Albert Hawking. Life suddenly takes on all sorts of mysterious and wonderful possibilities. The boy is in awe of Hawking, but also uncertain of the relationship and what is expected of him. He soon finds out that Hawking works under a whole set of rules, one of which is not to share too much with the police department. There are some gruesome murders that have recently occurred in the city, and Hawking puts Carver to work right away as a kind of junior investigator. It seems like a dream come true. But something is terribly wrong.
Carver has a growing awareness that the interest in his father is not a casual thing, and that the letter he shared with the police department is somehow part of a game played by someone. Who is his father? What is his connection with the murders of these young women? And then he learns about the other letters, written so many years ago, that contain such phrases as “Dear Boss” or “Saucy Jack.” Everyone knows the madman who wrote them. Can Carver be the son of “Jack the Ripper”?
Stefan Petrucha, who has authored stories for The X-Files, Nancy Drew and numerous horror/science fiction graphic novels, bends the late 1890s into a steam-punk world of marvelous gadgets, kidnappings, hidden codes, conspiracies, secret meetings, deceptions, runaway trains, and fascinating characters. The search for Carver’s father even pulls Finn and Delia back into the crazy life as they work together to search the darkest corners of a twisted and brilliant mind. Readers undoubtedly will hang on to every sentence as the secrets unfold and unbelievable truths splash, like blood, over the pages of this darkly intriguing adventure.
RIPPER would make a wonderful movie with elements of Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker all thrown in together. And judging from those last harrowing pages, it’s just possible that this might be the first in a series about Carver Young. We can only hope. Petrucha provides an excellent "Character and Gadget Glossary" at the end of the book that readers will really enjoy. It gives just a little insight into the long process of researching a book such as this and is fascinating in describing how he blended fact with fiction. And as for Carver, maybe, just maybe, it’s better not to know the truth in the end…even when it’s out there. Be ready!
Reviewed by Sally M. Tibbetts on April 27, 2012