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Stalking Jack the Ripper
Foreword by James Patterson
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Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord's daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life. Against her stern father's wishes and society's expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle's laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine.
When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her back to her own sheltered world. The story's shocking twists and turns, augmented with real, sinister period photos, will make this dazzling, #1 New York Times bestselling debut from author Kerri Maniscalco impossible to forget.
Table of Contents
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"It will have blood; they say, blood will have blood."
—MACBETH, ACT 3, SCENE 4
DR. JONATHAN WADSWORTH'S LABORATORY,
30 AUGUST 1888
I placed my thumb and forefinger on the icy flesh, spreading it taut above the breastbone as Uncle had showed me.
Getting the preliminary incision correct was imperative.
I took my time eyeing the placement of metal upon skin, ensuring proper angling for the cleanest cut. I felt Uncle hovering behind me, studying my every move, but had my view set entirely on the blade in my hand.
Without hesitation, I dragged the scalpel from one shoulder to the sternum, taking pains to push as deeply as I could. My brows raised a fraction before I schooled my face into an unreadable mask. Human flesh flayed much easier than I'd anticipated. It wasn't much different from cutting into a pork loin prior to its roasting, a thought that should have been more disturbing than it was.
A sickeningly sweet smell wafted from the incision I'd made. This cadaver wasn't as fresh as others. I had a sneaking suspicion not all our subjects were obtained through proper legal or voluntary measures and was regretting waving away Uncle's earlier offer of a breathing apparatus.
Foggy wisps of breath escaped my lips, but I refused to give in to building shivers. I stepped back, my slippers lightly crunching sawdust, and examined my work.
Blood barely seeped up from the wound. It was too thick and dead to flow crimson, and too foreign to be truly frightening. Had the man been dead less than thirty-six hours, it might've spilled onto the table then onto the floor, saturating the sawdust. I wiped the blade on my apron, leaving an inky streak in its wake.
It was a fine incision indeed.
I readied myself for the next cut, but Uncle held a hand in the air, stalling my movement. I bit my lip, despising myself for forgetting a step from his lesson so soon.
Uncle's ongoing feud with Father—neither one claimed to remember its origin, but I recall it well enough—had him wavering on continuing my apprenticeship. Proving myself incapable would not help my case, especially if I hoped to attend school the next morning.
"One moment, Audrey Rose," he said, plucking the soiled blade from my fingers.
A sharp scent sprung into the air, mixing with the stench of decaying organs as Uncle uncorked a bottle of clear liquid and splashed it onto a cloth. Antiseptic was pervasive in his basement laboratory and amongst his blades. I should've remembered to wipe the other one down.
I would not make the same mistake again.
I glanced about the basement, where several other bodies were lined up along the wall, their pale limbs stiff as snow-covered branches. We were going to be here all night if I didn't hurry, and Father, the all-important Lord Edmund Wadsworth, would send for Scotland Yard if I wasn't home soon.
Given his station, he'd probably have a small army out patrolling for me.
Uncle recorked the bottle of carbolic acid, then handed me another scalpel resembling a long, thin dinner knife. Its edge was much sharper than the last blade's was. Using the sterilized tool, I mimicked the same incision on the opposite shoulder, then made my way down to the deceased's navel, stopping just above his belly button.
Uncle hadn't warned me how hard it would be, cutting down to the rib cage. I stole a glance at him, but his gaze was fixed hungrily on the corpse.
At times the darkness in his eyes terrified me more than the dead we butchered.
"You'll need to crack the ribs open before reaching the heart."
I could tell Uncle was having a difficult time restraining himself from doing the deed. Corpses kept him company most nights, like intriguing textbooks; he cherished dissecting them and discovering the secrets held between the pages of their skin and bones. Before obsession could override his lesson, I quickly broke the rib cage apart, exposing the heart and the rest of the viscera.
A foul odor hit me full in the face, and without meaning to, I staggered back, nearly placing a hand over my mouth. It was the opening Uncle had been waiting for. He moved forward, but before he could push me aside, I shoved my hands deep into the abdomen, feeling around in squishy membranes until I found what we were looking for.
I steeled myself for the task of removing the liver, then accepted the blade from my uncle once more. After a few slices and tugs, the organ came loose.
I plopped it onto a waiting specimen tray with a slick thud, resisting the urge to wipe my hands on my apron. Having Uncle's servants wash a little blood was one thing, the gooey blood and mucus now coating my fingers was quite another.
We couldn't afford losing another lot of maids, and Uncle could ill afford having any more rumors flitting about. Some people already thought him mad enough.
"What is your medical deduction on how this man expired, Niece?"
The liver was in ghastly shape. Several scars ran along its length and width, giving the appearance of dried-out rivers and tributaries. My first guess was this man had been no stranger to his drink.
"It appears he died of cirrhosis." I pointed at the scarring. "His liver has been shutting down for quite some time, I believe." I walked around to his head and pulled one of his eyelids back. "Slight yellowing around the whites of his eyes is also present, furthering my suspicion he's been dying quite slowly for several years."
I walked back to the liver and carefully removed a cross section to study under the microscope later, then rinsed it and set it in a jar for preservation. I'd need to label it and add it to the wall of other pickled organs. It was important to keep meticulous records of every postmortem.
Uncle nodded. "Very good. Very good indeed. And what of—"
The door to the laboratory crashed against the wall, revealing a silhouetted male. It was impossible to see exactly what he looked like or how old he was, with a hat tugged so low over his brow and his overcoat practically touching the ground, but he was very tall. I dared not move, hoping Uncle would brandish a weapon, but he seemed unimpressed with the dark character before us.
Ignoring my presence completely, the male focused only on my uncle. "It's ready, Professor."
His voice was smooth, and hinted at youth. I arched a brow, intrigued by what a student and my uncle were up to.
"So soon?" Uncle checked the clock on the wall, looking at the body on the table and then at me. I had no idea who the rude boy was or what was ready, but had a feeling it couldn't be anything good at this late hour. Uncle rubbed his chin. After what felt like an eternity, he addressed me with a calculating stare. "Are you capable of closing the cadaver up on your own?"
I stood taller and thrust my chin up. "Of course."
It was truly absurd that Uncle would think me incapable of such an easy thing, especially after I'd been fishing around inside the dead man's viscera well enough on my own. Out of all my tasks this would be the easiest.
"Aunt Amelia says my needlework is quite impressive," I added. Except she didn't have skin stitching in mind while praising my embroidery, I'm sure. "Anyway, I practiced suturing on a boar's carcass over the summer and had no trouble forcing the needles in and out of its derma. This won't be any different."
The dark figure chuckled, a damnably pleasant sound. I kept my expression calm, though I was quietly seething underneath. There wasn't anything funny about that statement. Whether stitching skin or linen, the craft was what counted, not the medium.
"Very well." Uncle slipped a black overcoat on and removed something I couldn't quite see from a box near his desk. "You may close the body up. Be sure to lock the basement on your way out."
The young man disappeared up the stairs without a backward glance, and I was happy to see him go. Uncle paused at the door, his scarred fingers tapping a nervous beat against the frame.
"My carriage will take you home when you're through," he said. "Leave the other specimens for tomorrow afternoon."
"Uncle, wait!" I ran around the examination table. "What of school tomorrow? You said you'd let me know tonight."
His attention flicked to the gutted cadaver on the table, then back to my expectant face. I could see his mind strategizing and coming up with a thousand reasons why I should not attend his forensic medicines class.
Propriety being the least of his worries.
Father would tear him limb from limb if he discovered my apprenticeship.
Uncle Jonathan sighed. "You're to come dressed as a boy. And if you so much as utter one word, it will be your first and last time in my classroom. Understand?"
I nodded vigorously. "I promise. I'll be as silent as the dead."
"Ah," Uncle said, putting a hat on and tugging it low, "the dead speak to those who listen. Be quieter than even them."
HARROW SCHOOL FOR BOYS,
31 AUGUST 1888
There wasn't as much blood as one would expect from such a violent throat slashing, according to my uncle. I barely kept up with his account of the gruesome scene he'd attended early this morning, and my notes were looking rather scattered, much like my thoughts.
"Tell me, boys," Uncle Jonathan said, moving about the low stage in the center of the gallery, his pale green eyes pausing on mine before continuing, "what does the evidence suggest if the blood found under the body was already coagulated? Better yet, if there was barely enough blood found to fill but half a pint, what might that say about our victim's end?"
The urge to call out the answer was a miserable beast longing to break free from the cage I'd agreed to lock it in. Instead of exorcising that demon, I sat quietly with my lips pressed shut and my hat pulled low. I hid my annoyance by scanning my classmates' expressions. I inwardly sighed. Most of them were the same shade of artichoke and looked a breath away from vomiting. How they'd stomach dissecting a cadaver was beyond me. I subtly scraped dried blood from my nail beds, recalling the way it felt to hold a liver in my hands, and wondered what new sensation today's postmortem would bring.
A boy with dark brown hair—as carefully sculpted as his immaculately pressed uniform—raised his hand, straight as an arrow in the air. Inkblots covered much of his fingertips, as if he were too entranced with writing notes to be bothered with delicacy. My gaze had lingered on him earlier, fascinated by the methodical way he took notes. He was nearly manic with learning—a trait I couldn't help admiring.
Uncle nodded toward him. The boy cleared his throat and stood, confidence pulling his lean shoulders back, as he faced the class instead of my uncle. I narrowed my eyes. He was also quite tall. Could he be the mysterious visitor from last night?
"It's rather obvious, if you ask me," he said, his tone bordering on disinterest, "that our murderer either propositioned the deceased for illicit acts to lure her somewhere private, or sneaked up on her—as she was clearly inebriated—and dispatched her from behind."
It was hard to tell, since he'd barely spoken yesterday, but his voice sounded as if it could be that of Uncle's late-night visitor. I found myself leaning closer, as if proximity might spark recognition in my brain.
Uncle Jonathan cleared his throat to stall the arrogant boy and sat at his wooden desk. I smiled. Posing as a boy certainly had its merits. Talk of prostitutes always put Uncle on edge, only now he couldn't scold anyone for speaking freely in front of me. He pulled a drawer open, taking a pair of spectacles out and rubbing smudges from them on his tweed jacket before settling them on his face. Leaning forward, Uncle asked, "Why might you believe our victim was assaulted from behind, Thomas, when most of my colleagues believe the victim was lying down when attacked?"
I glanced between them, surprised Uncle had used his Christian name. Now I was almost positive he was the late-night stranger. The boy, Thomas, drew his brows together.
Golden-brown eyes were perfectly set into an angular face, as if Leonardo da Vinci had painted him himself. If only my lashes were as luxuriant. His chin was squared, giving him a look of steadfast determination. Even his nose was thin and regal, giving an air of alertness to his every expression. If he weren't so infuriatingly aware of his own intelligence, he'd be quite attractive, I supposed.
"Because as you stated, sir, the throat was slashed from left to right. Considering most people are, in fact, right-handed, one would imagine from the downward trajectory you described, and the statistical probability our perpetrator was indeed, right-handed, the easiest way to commit this act would be from behind the victim."
Thomas grabbed the student sitting beside him, and wrestled him to a standing position, demonstrating his point. Chair limbs screeched against the tiled flooring as the boy struggled to break free, but Thomas held tight as if he were a boa constrictor with its prey.
"He probably placed his left arm across her chest or torso, dragged her close, like so"—he whipped our classmate around—"and swiftly dragged the blade across her throat. Once, while standing, then twice as she fell to the ground, all before she knew what was happening."
After simulating the near beheading, Thomas dropped the boy and stepped over him, returning to both his seat and his former disinterest. "If you were to investigate blood splatter at a slaughterhouse, I'm sure you'd find something like an inverse pattern, as livestock are typically killed while dangling upside down."
"Ha!" Uncle clapped his hands with echoing force.
I jumped at his outburst, relieved most of the class jolted in their wooden seats along with me. There was no denying Uncle was passionate about murder.
"Then why, naysayers cry, didn't blood splatter all over the upper portion of the fence?" Uncle challenged, pounding a fist in his palm. "When her jugular was severed, it should've rhythmically sprayed everything."
Thomas nodded as if he'd been anticipating this very question. "That's quite simple to explain, isn't it? She was wearing a neckerchief when first attacked, then it fell away. Or, perhaps the murderer ripped it from her to clean his blade. He might possess some neurosis or other."
Silence hung thick as the East End fog as the vivid image Thomas created took life inside each of our minds. Uncle taught me the importance of removing my emotions from these types of cases, but it was hard to speak of a woman as if she were an animal being brought to the slaughterhouse. No matter how far she'd fallen from polite society.
I swallowed hard. Thomas had a disturbing way of both predicting why the murderer acted as he did and turning emotions off when it suited him, it seemed. It took a few seconds for my uncle to respond, but when he did, he was grinning like a madman, his eyes two sparks of fire set ablaze in his skull. I couldn't stop a twinge of jealousy from twisting in my gut. I couldn't tell if I was upset Uncle looked so pleased and I wasn't responsible or if I wished to be interacting with the annoying boy myself. Out of everyone in this classroom, he at least wasn't cowed by the violence of this crime. Being afraid wouldn't find justice for the family—this boy seemed to understand that.
I shook my thoughts free and listened to the lesson.
"Brilliant deduction skills, Thomas. I, too, believe our victim was attacked from behind while standing. The knife used was most likely between six and eight inches long." Uncle paused, showing the class about how big the blade was with his hands. Uneasiness crept into my blood. It would've been around the same size as the scalpel I'd used last night.
Uncle cleared his throat. "Judging from the jagged cut in the abdomen, I'd say the wound was inflicted postmortem, where the body was discovered. I'd also venture our murderer was interrupted, and didn't get what he was originally after. But I've an inkling he might be either left-handed or ambidextrous based on other evidence."
A boy sitting in the first row raised a shaking hand. "What do you mean? What he was originally after?"
"Pray we don't find out." Uncle twisted the corner of his pale mustache, a habit he often indulged while lost in thought. I knew whatever he'd say next wouldn't be pleasant.
Without realizing it, I'd grabbed the edges of my own seat so hard my knuckles were turning white. I loosened my grip slightly.
"For the sake of this lesson, I'll divulge my theories." Uncle glanced around the room once more. "I believe he was after her organs. Detective inspectors, however, do not share my sentiments on that aspect. I can only hope they're right."
While discussions broke out on Uncle's organ-removal theory, I sketched the anatomical figures he'd hastily drawn on the chalkboard at the start of our lesson in order to clear my mind. Dissected pigs, frogs, rats, and even more disturbing things such as human intestines and hearts adorned the inside of my pages.
My notebook was filled with images of things a lady had no business being fascinated by, yet I couldn't control my curiosity.
A shadow fell across my notebook, and somehow I knew it was Thomas before he opened his mouth. "You ought to put the shadow on the left side of the body, else it looks like a pool of blood."
I tensed, but kept my lips shut as if they'd been sewn together by a reckless mortician. Flames quietly burned under my skin, and I cursed my body's reaction to such an aggravating boy. Thomas continued critiquing my work.
"Truly, you should erase those ridiculous smudges," he said. "The streetlamp was coming from this angle. You've got it all terribly wrong."
"Truly, you should mind your own business." I closed my eyes, internally scolding myself. I'd been doing so well keeping quiet and not interacting with any of the boys. One slip could cost me my seat in class.
Deciding one should never show a mad dog fear, I met Thomas's sharp gaze full-on. A small smile played upon his lips, and my heart trotted in my chest like a carriage horse running through Trafalgar Square. I reminded myself he was a self-important arse and decided the stutter in my heart was strictly due to nerves. I'd rather bathe in formaldehyde than be ousted from class by such a maddening boy.
Handsome though he might be.
"While I appreciate your observation," I said between clenched teeth, taking careful pains to deepen my voice, "I'd like it very much if you'd be so kind as to leave me to my studies."
His eyes danced as if he'd discovered a vastly entertaining secret, and I knew I was a mouse that had been caught by an all too clever cat.
"Right, then. Mr.…?" The way he emphasized mister left no room for misunderstanding; he was quite aware I was no young man but was willing to play along for God only knew what reason. I softened a bit at this show of mercy, dropping my disguised voice so only he could hear, my heart picking up speed once more at our shared secret.
"Wadsworth. My name is Audrey Rose Wadsworth."
A flash of understanding crossed his face, his attention flicking to my uncle, who was still inciting a heated discussion. He held his hand out, and I reluctantly shook it, hoping my palms wouldn't give away my nervousness.
Perhaps having a friend to talk over cases might be nice.
"I believe we met last night," I ventured, feeling a bit bolder. Thomas's brows knit together and my newfound confidence plummeted. "In my uncle's laboratory?"
Darkness shifted over his features. "Apologies, but I haven't a clue what you're referring to. This is the first time we've spoken."
"We didn't exactly speak—"
"It's nice to meet you, Wadsworth. I'm sure we'll have much to discuss in the near future. Immensely near, actually, as I'm apprenticing this evening with your uncle. Perhaps you'll allow me the pleasure of testing out a few of my theories?"
Another crimson wave washed over my cheeks. "Your theories on what, exactly?"
"Your scandalous choice to attend this class, of course." He grinned. "It isn't every day you meet such an odd girl."
The friendly warmth I'd been feeling toward him froze over like a pond during a particularly frigid winter. Especially since he appeared completely unaware of how irritating he was, smiling to himself without a care in the universe. "I do love the satisfaction of solving a puzzle and proving myself right."
Somehow I found the strength to bite my retort back and offered a tight smile in its place. Aunt Amelia would be proud her lessons on etiquette stuck with me. "I am very much looking forward to hearing your scintillating theory on my life choices, Mr.…?"
"Gentlemen!" Uncle barked. "If you please, I'd like each of you to write down your theories on Miss Mary Ann Nichols's murder and bring them to class tomorrow."
Thomas gave me one last devilish grin and turned back to his notes. As I closed my journal and gathered up my things, I couldn't help thinking he might prove an equally vexing mystery to solve.
TEA AND AUTOPSIES
31 AUGUST 1888
"Where are you running off to at this hour?"
Father stood near the grandfather clock in the foyer—his tone striking the same nervous chord as the beastly antique—while he checked his pocket watch. Only a handful of years separated Uncle and Father, and up until recently they could have passed for twins. A muscle in his square jaw twitched. Worse questions were coming. The urge to flee back up the grand staircase was suddenly overwhelming.
"I-I promised Uncle Jonathan I'd join him for tea." I watched him inhale a sharp breath and added quietly, "Turning down his invitation would've been rude."
Before he offered any more thoughts on the matter, the parlor door swung open and my brother waltzed in like a beam of sunshine set against the backdrop of a gray day. Taking quick note of the situation, he pounced.
"I must say, everyone appears so downright cheerful this afternoon, it's rather disturbing. Give me a proper scowl, good man. Ah—" he smiled at the glare Father leveled at him— "that's the spirit! Excellent job, Father."
"Nathaniel," Father warned, his glassy focus darting between us. "This matter does not concern you."
"Are we terrified to let the girl out of the protective bubble again? Heaven forbid she catch pox and perish. Oh, wait," Nathaniel cocked his head. "That's happened before, hasn't it?" He dramatically grabbed my wrist, checking for a pulse, then staggered back. "By God, Father. She's quite alive!"
Father's pale hand shook, and he blotted at his brow with a handkerchief, which was never a promising sign. Nathaniel usually managed to diffuse Father's anxiety with a well-placed quip. Today wasn't one of those days. I couldn't help noticing extra lines around Father's mouth, dragging his lips into a near-permanent frown. If he'd only let some of his endless worry go, it would erase a decade from his once-handsome features. Strands of gray hair were also slipping in between his ashy-blond locks more and more lately.
"I was just telling Father I'm on my way to the carriage," I said as pleasantly as I could manage, feigning ignorance of the volatile atmosphere. "I'm meeting Uncle Jonathan."
Nathaniel clapped his gloved hands together, a sly smile spreading across his face. He couldn't resist assisting me with my chosen medical studies. Mostly because my modern stance—on why girls were equally capable of having a profession or apprenticeship—offered endless amusement.
My brother's love of arguing made him an excellent barrister-in-training, but his fickle attention would lead him elsewhere soon enough. His prior whims included a few months studying medicine, then art, then a horrendous effort with a violin—which went badly for all who had the misfortune of hearing him practice his scales.
Though, as heir to our family legacy, he needn't learn a trade at all. It was merely something to pass idle hours and afternoons besides drinking with his pompous friends.
"Ah, that's right. I recall Uncle saying something about tea earlier in the week. Unfortunately, I had to decline his invitation, what with my studies and all." Adjusting his gloves and smoothing his suit, Nathaniel stepped back and grinned. "Your dress is exceptional for today's weather and special occasion. Seventeen now, right? You're stunning, birthday girl. Don't you agree, Father?"
Father scrutinized my ensemble. He was probably searching for a lie to prevent me from traveling to Uncle's home, but he wouldn't find one. I'd already packed the carriage with a change of simpler clothing. If he couldn't prove I was going to practice unholy acts upon the dead and risk infection, he couldn't very well stop me.
For now, I was dressed in proper afternoon tea attire; my watered-silk gown was the same shade of eggshell as my silk slippers, and my corset was tight enough to remind me it was there with each painful breath I took.
I was suddenly grateful for the rose-colored gloves that buttoned up to my elbows; they were a fashionable way to hide how much my palms were sweating.
Praise for Stalking Jack the Ripper:A #1 New York Times Bestseller from its first week!
- "An entertaining debut full of twists and turns, perfect for fans of historical fiction and mystery."—School Library Journal
- "Maniscalco has created a serious, sharp-minded, and forward-thinking protagonist in Audrey Rose, whose fearlessness will endear her to readers looking for an engaging historical thriller. Abundant red herrings and a dash of romance round out this gruesome but engrossing story."—Publisher's Weekly
- "Audrey Rose Wadsworth prefers breeches to ball gowns, autopsies to afternoon tea, and scalpels to knitting needles. Though her father, Lord Edmund, has forbidden it, Audrey covertly studies forensic medicine...while "the Ripper" remains two steps ahead, lurking where Audrey least expects....Maniscalco's portrayal of scientific invention in a newly industrial era will serve as a fine first foray into Victorian classics."—Booklist
- "*A marvelous yet somewhat gruesome mystery...The Ripper scenes are visceral, and the plot dovetails with history perfectly. An unexpected twist makes the ending worth the wait. A must-have."—School Library Journal, starred review
- "Audrey is a young woman eager to use her brains and willing to flaunt society's rules....This mystery pays homage to classics like Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein [and] will satisfy those readers looking for historical mystery, a witty heroine, and a little romance."—School Library Connection
- "This is a book that will keep you up at night and haunt you during the day."—Beth Revis, author of the New York Times bestselling series Across the Universe
- "With ample knowledge of Ripper lore, Maniscalco creates a steadfast and headstrong heroine who is as comfortable in gloves of blood as she is in watered silk. Filled with plenty of gory details, and no shortage of possible suspects, Stalking Jack the Ripper conveys the panic, paranoia, and fascination of 1880s London with a madman on the loose."—Kendare Blake, author of Anna Dressed in Blood and Three Dark Crowns
- "Kerri Maniscalco paints a picture of nineteenth-century London that lives and breathes in wonderfully sinister fashion. You won't want to put this book down."—Renee Ahdieh, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Wrath and the Dawn
- "Dark and suspenseful...this book kept me guessing until its final, terrifying scenes."—Anna Carey, author of the EVE trilogy
- On Sale
- Apr 24, 2018
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Grand Central Publishing