Thursday, October 7, 2010

RIP Read #15: New Release: What Alice Knew

I'm definitely on the fence when it comes to historical fictions that use real-life people as characters.  When it is done well, I think it is a fantastic way to make history accessible.  When it's done poorly--for example, taking too many liberties with facts and personality--it's infuriating.  And then there are the novels that take historical figures and put them into entirely fictitious situations.  I'm on the fence with these too!  The newly released What Alice Knew by Paula Marantz Cohen thankfully falls on the greener side of the fence.

Henry James (the author) and his invalid sister Alice live in London.  When the Jack the Ripper killings start escalating, their brother William is invited over from the States by Scotland Yard and asked to use his psychological expertise in identifying the killer.  His siblings can't resist the opportunity to join him in the hunt for someone who may be in their own social circle.  They each use their unique viewpoints to lead one another toward a shocking discovery.

This was an interesting introduction to the Family James.  I knew nothing about any of their personal lives before reading this.  I, of course, ended up doing a bit of research during my reading and found nothing to upset me which is always a good sign!  The actual story was alright but didn't completely grab me.  Still, it was an entertaining read and a different viewpoint on the Ripper story than I have read before.  I'm more interested in finding out more about the James family and will be looking for other works about them.

Convincing my siblings to join me in a bit of sleuthing,

Support our site and buy What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper on Amazon or find it at your local library.  We received a copy for review from the publisher.


  1. I'm going to have to read this one, only because it sounds even weirder than "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter." (Incidentally, in recent years there have apparently been a whole flock of novels featuring James as a character. You're asking me why?

    P.S. I entirely agree with you about using real people in historical fiction!

  2. I like to see glimpses of real people in historical fiction, but any more than that and I get twitchy and start worrying A LOT about how much of what the author's having the people do is historically accurate. I like real people to have cameos, not starring roles.

  3. I have this one in my read-a-thon pile! It probably won't be chosen, but I definitely want to read it at some point. Jack the Ripper has always fascinated me.

  4. I tell you, you are the RIP Queen!!!

    Glad this one worked ... both as a story and as history.

  5. I have this on my wish list! Now I wish I could get it faster!

  6. I share your reservations about real people in novels, but this does sound interesting.

  7. This was okay, but I wasn't entirely enthused by it...

  8. Undine - I should go find some other fictions with Henry James as a character. He was quite interesting in this one!

    Jenny - I think I like it best when they are true fictions, like the books by Matthew Pearl and Louis Bayard. I think it's fun to imagine "what ifs".

    Lola - I like Ripper fictions too -- especially when they aren't totally focused on the killer but on the solution of the crimes.

    Jenners - I think I'm at least in the running!

    Deslily - I hope you enjoy it!

    Geranium - That's why I always give them a chance. I can never tell which ones I will like and which ones I won't!

    Kailana - Agreed.