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25 March 2014

Isabel Allande: Ripper

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Disappointing attempt at a complex mystery thriller
Isabel Allande is Chilean author who has won many awards for her literary skills and she one of my most admired authors. She has recently extended herself by writing outside her normal literary genre. "Ripper" is her first attempt at a thriller and IMHO she has outreached her abilities by taking on a topic which is outside her comfort zone.

This is a very complex book which mixes Allende's great character building skills with an unusual approach to a serial killer thriller. The book starts with a side plot focussing on a motley group of teenage cyber detectives from around the world  who play an online game called "Ripper" brainstorming the Jack the Ripper killings. Teenager Amanda Martin is the games master for "Ripper" and she brings her beloved 64 year old Grandfather, Blake Jackson, into the game as her assistant. The game quickly becomes serious when Amanda turns their attention to the current day in San Francisco to look at a series of strange but possibly connected killings.

Allende builds up a fascinating insight into Amanda's pretty dysfunctional family where she was mainly brought up by her grandfather. After a short teenage marriage Amanda's parents divorced, with her mother Indiana setting up as a scatterbrained but effective natural healer, with "intuitive" massage and aromatherapy, who will try to help anyone she finds in need. In complete contrast her father takes up a successful career in the police and is Deputy Chief of Homicide. Amanda uses her connections with her father to gain insights into the murders that should not be released outside his office.

As well as Amanda's parents and grandfather we get to know several characters well by the middle of the book. Ryan Miller, is an ex Navy SEAL who lost a leg in Afghanistan, and Indi's lover Allan Keller is a wealthy man who has never had a job in his life. I loved the parts of the book when it meandered through some fascinating characters but I lost the plot as soon as it came face to face with being a thriller and things got out of control and unbelievable.

I have the feeling that Allande is still far more interested in characters than in mysteries. It might have worked better if Allande hadn't made it so complex and unbelievable and spiced it up with the extra complication of  the "Ripper" connection.

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