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Monday, October 10, 2011

'The Name of the Star' Shades of London #1 by Maureen Johnson

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB

Sixteen-year-old American girl Rory has just arrived at boarding school in London when a Jack the Ripper copycat-killer begins terrorising the city. All the hallmarks of his infamous murders are frighteningly present, but there are few clues to the killer′s identity.

"Rippermania" grabs hold of modern-day London, and the police are stumped with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. In an unknown city with few friends to turn to, Rory makes a chilling discovery...

Could the copycat murderer really be Jack the Ripper back from the grave?

Aurora ‘Rory’ Deveaux is leaving her Louisiana swamp and moving to London. While her lawyer parents live in Bristol, Rory will be attending a Wexford co-ed boarding school for her ‘A levels’ (whatever the heck those are).

But Rory’s London move just so happens to coincide with ‘Rippermania’. Following a bizarre copy-cat murder that follows a similar motif to that of a Jack the Ripper slaying of 1888, London is in the grip of Ripper-madness. Things reach a fever pitch when a local news station receives the partial kidney of one of the victims, along with the infamous ‘From Hell’ letter.

Now there’s Rippercon and London tourism is fit to bursting.

Meanwhile, Rory is fitting in nicely to her new abode. She has become close friends with her roommate Jazza, and even has her eye on a Ripper-obsessed British lad called Jerome.

But one night when Rory and her friends are caught in the cross-hairs of Ripper-madness, Rory will come closer to the killer than she ever thought possible . . . putting her squarely in the psychopath’s path, and introducing her to some incredible (albeit, ghostly) London residents.

‘The Name of the Star’ is the new book from Maureen Johnson (author of the ‘Little Blue Envelope’ series). It is the first in a new paranormal YA series, called ‘Shades of London’.

I love, love, loved this gruesomely-compelling book. I am familiar with the Jack the Ripper legend (thanks in large part to Johnny Depp’s ‘From Hell’ and more recently, the ITV mini-series ‘Whitechapel’). More than that though, Jack the Ripper is a collective conscience of fascination and gore. Everyone just knows about Jack – he’s infamous and world-renowned as the first serial killer, and one of the few to get away with his crimes and remain an utter mystery. There’s enough eerie interest surrounding Jack that a paranormal book based around him isn’t that much of a stretch . . . but I was surprised at the interesting twists and turns Maureen Johnson added into her new series and world-building, to ensure that ‘Shades of London’ becomes a new must-read paranormal YA series to stand out from the slew of sameness.

First off, I loved the Wexford boarding school setting. A Louisiana native living in London was hilarious – as Rory navigates the Tube, comes to grips with hockey and ‘everyfink’ else about London town. And I adored Rory, everything from her home-grown stories of a parakeet-obsessed uncle to out-running a gator. The novel was often times quite gruesome and gory, so Rory’s southern quirks and molasses drawl were a lovely counterpoint to all the horror.

The Jack the Ripper copycat killings make up the murder mystery ‘whodunit’ of ‘Name of the Star’. Rory finds herself in the thick of the investigation after a near-death experience has her seeing a few interesting London ‘shades’ (or as they are more commonly referred to, ‘ghosts’). The Jack storyline is, unsurprisingly, creepy as hell. The new spin on this old mystery makes things equally chilling – like the CCTV footage that captures Jack’s rampage. But more than that, the public’s renewed fascination is equally gory and frightening – London pubs hold ‘Ripper nights’ and Rippercon is a meeting of the best (and geekiest) ‘Ripperologists’. In light of the Casey Anthony and Amanda Knox murder trials, Johnson’s depiction of a modern-day Jack the Ripper is a disturbingly keen observation. She writes about a city’s fascination with an infamous murderer, and how they make a celebrity of him. It’s sickening especially for its believability.

“But there have been other murderers since,” I said. “Lots of them.”
“But Jack the Ripper was kind of the original. See, he was around when the police force was fairly new and psychology was just starting out. People understood why someone might kill to steal something, or out of anger, or out of jealousy. But here was a man killing for seemingly no reason at all, hunting down vulnerable, poor women, cutting them apart. There was no explanation. What made him so terrifying was that he didn’t need a reason. He just liked to kill. And the papers played the story up until people were mad with fear. He’s the first modern killer.”

But though Jack is the whodunit of this book, he’s not the central plot of the ‘Shades of London’. The series will instead focus on a London ‘Spook’ squad, a task force of people who can see ghosts because of a near-death experience. The spooks notice Rory after she reports seeing a strange man hanging around the location of one of the copycat Ripper murders. . . except only she could see this mysterious gentleman, and his clothes suggest he’s a decade out of date. Thus, Rory comes to the notice of officer Stephen, Callum and an undercover agent.

I really loved the ghost aspect of this book. It blends seamlessly into the London setting, a city that has plenty of ghost tours and horrible history to support the many shades plot. Furthermore, the fact that the London police are ‘in the know’ about London’s non-corporeal is way cool and a nice twist on the usual supernatural (where authority is very rarely cluey).

There was only one thing that didn’t work for me in this book, and that was the somewhat lagging romance plot. It does seem silly that all young adult supernatural/paranormal books have a romantic sub-plot as a general rule of thumb. But it’s all about balancing – when the genre demands a certain horror/violent/gore factor, it helps pacing that there is a soft, romantic side story to calm the waters. In ‘Name of the Star’ Rory does have a romance going with a fellow boarder called Jerome. But their ‘romance’ came across as an afterthought, and Jerome’s morbid fascination with all things Ripper made him creepy and not entirely romantic. I do like Stephen for Rory, but I really couldn’t tell if there was any heat between them. . . I do hope that this is developed in future books.

‘The Name of the Star’ is a wonderful new supernatural series. Maureen Johnson has written a fantastically gory and frightening novel based around an infamous murderer who has a whole new and captivated audience. Long live Ripper-madness.


1 comment:

  1. I can't begin to express how much I love it when an author takes a classic story and makes it into something I never thought of before. I have also been a big fan of Jack the Ripper. The stories itself have always intrigued me in who this man is. And why he committed the murders he committed? What was the purpose? With Ms. Johnson amazing writing style, I, the reader, am taken back to a place I have never been before, and see things new.


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