Monday, September 13, 2010

What Alice Knew - Paula Marantz Cohen

Subtitled: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper.

What Alice Knew is an utterly original historical mystery. Paula Marantz Cohen has taken many well known historical figures and incorporated them as the characters in this period tale. Novelist Henry James, his psychologist brother William and their bedridden sister Alice are the main protagonists, but others such as Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and John Singer Sargent figure prominently.

And of course - Jack the Ripper. Cohen brings 1888 London, England to life with her descriptions of locales and social customs. But it is the dialogue and interactions between the characters that provide such a fresh inventive look at a event that has been covered many times before. The conversations between the siblings is witty, clever and very entertaining. The character of Alice is especially engaging - her self imposed bed rest seems at odds with her quick and intelligent mind, but she is self aware. When we get a glimpse at her vulnerabilities, she becomes all the more authentic. Of all the historical figures, I enjoyed her portrayal the most.

"...that the solution to these horrific crimes requires the three of us. Henry, to observe the social world where I sense the murder lurks and to plumb his friends and acquaintances for gossip. William, to study the physical evidence through  his contact with the police and to supply psychological analysis where needed.
And you? William asked in amused wonder. What will you do?
Me?  She levelled her intelligent gaze at her brothers. I will review what you gather....and solve the case."
Cohen has presented a 'solution' to the Ripper mystery that is both plausible and unique. But the fun in this book is the journey not the resolution. Highly entertaining.

Read an excerpt of What Alice Knew.


bermudaonion said...

I'm fascinated by Jack the Ripper stories, so this book sounds like one I'd love.

Carol said...

I love historical mysteries. This is one I definitely need to pick up.

Jenn's Bookshelves said...

I just received a copy of this the other day! I can't wait to read it!

Dorte H said...

What an interesting angle! Sherlock Holmes would have admired her faith in her little grey cells :D