August 30th, 2014

rotting doll.

Review: Ripper by Isabel Allende

by Isabel Allende

When a string of gristly murders strike San Francisco, the police struggle to find the perpetrator. As months pass with no leads, Amanda, the daughter of the police chief, turns to the online roleplaying group with whom she plays “Ripper”, a mystery-solving game. Using the information funneled to her through her father and grandfather, Amanda and the Ripper team decide that the murders are the work of a serial killer and race to solve the crimes before the murderer strikes again. Meanwhile, Amanda’s hippy mother Indiana treats her clients with holistic healing practices while men compete for her attention. As her daughter digs deeper into the darkness of the human soul, Indiana focuses on bringing forth the good and the positive in each person who visits her clinic.

If you thought that the last sentence made it sound like I was talking about two characters from two different books, you’re right. Amanda and Indiana may be related, but their lives couldn’t be more different. Whenever Amanda is on the page, she’s investigating the murders. She’s talking to her grandfather, who for some reason is given access to police records with little trouble, and sharing what she learns with an internet group with people around the world. There are so many questions this raises to me, like isn’t revealing this information to virtual strangers breaking some sort of police confidentiality policy? There are also some secondary storylines that show Amanda has trouble fitting in at her boarding school, which is probably why she’s so dependent on her online friendships, but most of the time she’s focused on solving murders.

Meanwhile, Indiana is in a relationship with Alan, a wealthy socialite who can’t decide whether to commit himself fully to a woman below his social standing. He’s a total douchebag, to put it bluntly. While her daughter’s getting cozy in a murder mystery, Indiana reminisces about her lovers and friends, each and every one of which is given a lengthy backstory. It’s a slow-paced, exhaustive character study.

Now put these two stories together, and you get a sluggish, tired attempt at a thriller. The disparate narratives just don’t work together as a cohesive whole. After all, a mystery should move tight and fast to keep the excitement high, and this one can’t because it’s constantly being interrupted to introduce the waiter at the restaurant Indiana frequents or chronicling the adventures of every single one of her coworkers. It’s pretty darn obvious that Indiana will at some point slip into the role of damsel-in-distress, and before I was halfway through the book I was tapping my foot, waiting for it to happen so we could get the story over with.

Then there’s the Ripper “game” itself. When I first heard about this book, I thought Ripper would be some sort of MMORPG themed around solving crimes instead of, say, killing orcs and elves. It sounded fascinating! But then when I started reading the book, I quickly realized that Ripper had more in common with Dungeons and Dragons or other tabletop RPGs, where a group of people adopt fictional characters and act out different scenarios in character. Through the power of teleconferencing, Amanda and her friends chat with each other using affected accents. It’s weird. Some of the characters have special abilities – one is psychic, for example – and it’s never made clear whether it’s the fictional identity or the person behind it who has the skill.

It pains me to say this, because Isabel Allende is an author that I quite enjoy, but this was simply awful. One of the worst books I have ever read! I kept hoping it would get better, so I forced myself to finish the final page, but it was not worth it at all. Fans of Allende will be disappointed, as this is nowhere near the quality of her previous work, and fans of mystery-thrillers will be disappointed because it’s a terrible contribution to the genre.

1 out of 5 stars

To read more about Ripper, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the in:
2013: Utah Shakespeare Festival: Peter and the Starcatcher
2012: Contest: Last chance to win a copy of “The Second Empress”!
2011: The Queen’s Sorrow by Suzannah Dunn
2010: Mixed Vegetables Vol. 1 by Ayumi Komura
2009: The Virgin’s Daughters by Jeane Westin
2008: The Front Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins