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RIPPER by Isabel Allende


by Isabel Allende

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-06-229140-0
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

A seasoned hand at the intimate Latin American literary novel and young-adult fantasy takes an ungainly stab at a page-turner about a serial killer.

This loose, overstuffed crime story from Allende (Maya’s Notebook, 2013, etc.) is set in San Francisco, where teenage heroine Amanda is navigating two problems. First is the split between her mom, Indiana, a gorgeous New-Age healer, and her dad, the SFPD’s deputy homicide chief. The second problem is the spate of grotesque murders in the city, over which Amanda obsesses online with a group of fellow geeks with a mordant streak. (Allende refers to such Internet activity as a game called Ripper, but the "game" seems hardly distinct from a chat room.) While Amanda attempts to connect the murders to one killer, Indiana ponders whether to give her affections to a wealthy but shiftless socialite or a former Navy SEAL with PTSD. There are repeated references in the book to Scandinavian crime fiction, and Allende has clearly taken inspiration from the general outlines of the genre: the gory, imaginatively murdered corpses, the whip-smart young female hero, the cynicism about law enforcement institutions. But Allende struggles with pacing and tone. The novel is overlong and thick with clichés both in the prose and the characters; the most carefully drawn character, Indiana, is prone to a flightiness that seems largely designed to serve plot points. Allende crafts some thoughtful brief sketches of San Francisco subcultures, from high-end mansions to rough-and-tumble drag queens, and she cleverly unifies the murders in the closing chapters. But by then, the characters and plot turns feel so familiar that a late-breaking tragedy has little emotional effect.

Credit Allende for attempting to expand her range, but crime fiction is plainly not her forte.