Isabel Allende is not an author one usually associates with the thrillers about serial killers. Ripper, however, lives up to its title. It’s the name of an online game, set in Jack the Ripper’s London. Six players — five teenagers and an elderly man — inhabit their personas with fanatical fervour. They switch their forensic attentions to modern San Francisco when the corpse of a security guard is found obscenely displayed in a high-school gym. The father of Amanda, the group’s games master, is the deputy chief of San Francisco’s homicide department. Her divorced mother is Indiana Jackson, a Reiki healer whose patients are often more interested in her Barbie-doll good looks than in her holistic techniques. One of the adoring patients is the picturesquely disabled Ryan, a retired SEAL who formed part of the team that killed Osama bin Laden.
Considered purely as a thriller, Ripper is cliché-ridden and predictable. Corpse follows corpse; the police are baffled; Indiana vanishes and is held in durance vile, facing a ghastly fate dripping with grand guignol symbolism.
None of this would necessarily matter, at least in terms of the genre, if the novel were not also slow-moving and discursive. The crux of the problem is that Allende has interwoven the thriller elements with the lives, interrelationships and backstories of a large cast of Bay Area characters. These parts of the book can be mildly enjoyable in a low-key way. Then the melodrama breaks in. The result is two underwhelming novels in one.
Correction: In Stephen Walsh review last week, Julian Herbage’s name somehow got reconstructed as Herbert. We apologise for this error.