Where’s Jack the Ripper when you need him?
India Jones—her name an echo, intentional or not, of the Harrison Ford film character—is spirited, moneyed, smart, high-toned, tough and diligent. She lacks only the ability to “smell a copper a mile away,” a skill that would help her fit right in with her patients in Whitechapel, London’s dingiest, grimiest, Cockneyest district, where she has set up a medical practice. Jack London wrote about the place in People of the Abyss, a book contemporaneous with the time at which Donnelly’s far chunkier tome takes place. Like Donnelly’s The Tea Rose (2002), this work features a heroine who cuts a fine figure in the world but who is less than complete without a man—preferably a dangerous sort, it seems, rather than a fellow do-gooder—by her side. India fills the bill with Sid Malone, a cruel-hearted and cruelly handsome gangster who is definitely not for the faint of heart. (Come the movie, Ian McShane is just the type for the part.) Both naturally resist the temptations of the other. Eventually, hormones trump sense; as Donnelly explains, “He stood, as if to go, then instead he bent to her, took her face in his hands, parted her lips with his tongue, and kissed her deeply.” Once parted, those lips stay parted, even when Sid gets himself in trouble with the coppers. When he’s released on his own recognizance, Sid arms himself with a pseudonym and goes off in search of India, who has transferred herself to Kenya to do good in coffee country. Seems she’s got something that’s his. Meanwhile, she’s looking for something that’s hers, too, but is stymied by the evil politician Freddie Lytton, who, come to think of it, has his Jack the Ripper qualities. Can love prevail over money? Can love outlast this too-long, too-average narrative? Only India’s shadow knows.
Horatio Alger meets a bodice-ripper meets Hemingway, with Dickensian dashes for good measure. Still, mostly a bodice-ripper, and a middling one at that.