As Isabel Allende explains in a letter included in the advance readers' copy of RIPPER, the novel started as sort of a dare. When, after Allende announced that she was retiring from writing literary and historical fiction, her agent challenged her to co-write a crime novel with her husband, William C. Gordon (the author of a series of noir mysteries featuring a San Francisco newspaper reporter). When it quickly became clear that the couple "would end up killing each other" during such a joint writing project, Allende decided to pursue the concept of a murder mystery on her own. The result is somewhat of a departure for the writer best known for multigenerational sagas like THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS and historical dramas like INES OF MY SOUL, but continues to employ Allende's broad scope and fearless exploration of passion in many forms.
"Capably translated from the Spanish by Ollie Brock and Frank Wynne, RIPPER is simultaneously a suspenseful murder mystery and a loving study of an eccentric cast of San Francisco characters and the city they call home."
At the center of RIPPER is Indiana Jackson, a vivacious, voluptuous massage therapist and Reiki practitioner, living in San Francisco. Indiana is romantically involved with Alan Keller, a member of one of San Francisco's elite families. He showers Indiana with luxuries and exotic trips (not to mention plenty of attention in the bedroom), but secretly he's in a financial tailspin. Waiting in the wings is Indiana's good friend and client, Ryan Miller, a wounded former Navy SEAL who longs for his friendship with Indiana to become something more.
Indiana's daughter Amanda, to whom Indiana gave birth when she was just a teenager herself, is an MIT-bound genius whose closest social relationships are with her grandfather and the eccentric group of individuals with whom she plays an online role-playing game called Ripper.
Recently, however, this group has turned its attention from fictional crimes to real ones; Amanda's godmother, a noted psychic, has foreseen a "bloodbath" in San Francisco, and according to Amanda, her prediction is coming true. A series of seemingly unrelated murders has been taking place around the city. Amanda is convinced that the crimes are indeed connected, despite what her father, the city's deputy chief of police for homicide, says. Certainly the crimes don't fit a typical serial killer pattern; the victims are inconsistent in age, sex and sexual orientation, and the murder methods vary widely, too. When Indiana herself starts to suspect that someone is stalking her and meddling with her private possessions (including her computer), the case hits uncomfortably close to home. Can the Ripper team solve the crime before the police --- and more importantly, before it's too late?
At first glance, RIPPER may seem like a surprising choice for Allende, whose recent output has been largely heavily researched works of historical fiction. This crime novel, however, includes the same kinds of larger-than-life figures whom Allende has developed in her other titles, and the book explores big themes such as loyalty, revenge, and the pursuit of passion --- the same sorts of issues she focuses on in other works.
Capably translated from the Spanish by Ollie Brock and Frank Wynne, RIPPER is simultaneously a suspenseful murder mystery and a loving study of an eccentric cast of San Francisco characters and the city they call home.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 30, 2014