What Alice Knew by Paula Marantz Cohen
Published by Sourcebooks
The year is 1888 and London is being terrorized by Jack the Ripper. For now only prostitutes are being targeted, but the citizenry is worried that the fiend may branch out. Scotland Yard is at a loss, so they decide to call in William James, the American professor of philosophy and the emerging field of psychology. It is James’ understanding of psychology that they hope will help them find the culprit. William just happens to be the older brother of novelist Henry James who, together with their younger invalid sister Alice, join in the hunt with William. William is the expert in psychology and works with the police, Henry does reconnaissance in Society, and Alice is the driving force between the siblings’ investigation.
This would be a fun book to pick up around Halloween, an interesting look at some of history’s most gruesome unsolved murders. I enjoy the interplay between academic and literary figures and the history that takes place around them, even if they were not involved with it – as long as it seems reasonable. Cohen definitely made the James siblings’ interest in and investigation of the Jack the Ripper murders seem at least plausible. I also appreciated how masterfully Cohen gave each of the siblings a strong and individual voice.
Well written, interesting historical fiction, especially if you enjoy whodunit theories of historical memory, as I do.
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