People of Abandoned Character by Clare Whitfield

gripping | original | well-plotted

what it says on the cover …

London, 1888. Susannah rushes into marriage to a young and wealthy surgeon. After a passionate honeymoon, she returns home with her new husband wrapped around her little finger. But then everything changes. His behaviour becomes increasingly volatile and violent. He stays out all night, returning home bloodied and full of secrets.

Lonely and frustrated, Susannah starts following the gruesome reports of a spate of murders in Whitechapel. But as the killings continue, her mind takes her down the darkest path imaginable. Every time he stays out late, another victim is found dead. Is it coincidence? Or is her husband the man the papers call Jack the Ripper?

PUBLISHED: 29th April 2021
SHELF: Historical Fiction | Mystery | Crime
AUTHOR: Clare Whitworth
PUBLISHER: Head of Zeus
FORMATS: Paperback | Hardback | Kindle | AudioBook

Thank you to @HoZ_Books for this paperback copy of #PeopleOfAbandonedCharacter by @whitfield_riley

my review

With such an eye catching title, there was little chance of me passing up an opportunity to read this book.  Coupled with the cover design it positively reeks of the more depraved and sensational lore from Victorian London, and with Jack the Ripper stalking the pages, People of Abandoned Character ticks all the boxes for historical fiction reader appeal.

The Ripper story makes for rich pickings when it comes to writing books in this genre, but this debut novel breathes new life into a much-covered topic.  Whilst the Ripper himself is the headline grabber, People of Abandoned Character is all about the women of the story, and not just his victims.  

The author has created a family unit (albeit a deeply dysfunctional one) around a man who proves himself to be cruel, violent and plausibly befitting the Ripper epithet.  Narrated by Susanna, the reader walks in the shoes of a woman who’s clawed her way out of London’s slums to marry a gentleman surgeon, only to find herself trapped in the most hellish gilded cage.  The spiralling decline of the marriage is rapid and, at times, violent, with despair and depression quickly engulfing the early romance.  Through Susanna’s sharp observation we glimpse an extremely vivid and well-written era where the precarious position of women in almost all strata of society is held up for examination.  

Susanna’s narrative is punctuated by fleeting final-hour monologues from the Ripper’s victims, crafted by the author using documented facts relayed in the imagined voice of each woman. Emma Smith, Martha Tabram, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Catherine Eddowes ,and Elizabeth Stride: they all haunt this story, and with each brief but impactful chapter they form a powerful picture of how easy it was for a woman to fall from relative comfort into a dangerous and exploited depth of poverty.

People of Abandoned Character is an enjoyable and well-plotted depiction of Victorian London during the Ripper’s chilling reign.  Its distinctively feminine retelling of a traditionally male-centred storyline brought new voices and perspectives to the fore, shining a light on the lengths women are prepared to go to (or, arguably, forced to go to) to maintain their tenuous positions in society.  For me, this was a book of thirds; with the first two thirds of the story moving with an illuminating and expansive mindset, whereas in the latter chapters there was a gear-shift to an overtly descriptive gore that seemed to jar with the overarching purpose of the book.  The author clearly gave a lot of thought to how to close out her story, opting for a happy-ever-after that I would agree Susanna deserved.

The inspiration behind the book, in Clare’s own words …

“The book was initially inspired by Jack the Ripper, and newspaper articles from the time, which lead me to the idea that perhaps the Ripper may have been married. With this is mind, I wanted to create a complex, strong female protagonist who was prepared to anything to keep her head above water, and succeed.

While based in a historical setting, the story has a contemporary appeal as the language is accessible, set in the Victorian era of the 1880s when years of austerity had taken their toll on the communities of an increasingly gentrified London. The novel explores the smoke and mirrors of perceived social mobility, the role of a wealthy society and their responsibility to the poor (or not as it may be the case), toxic relationships and narcissistic abuse, gender equality and freedom to pursue personal ambition.”


author bio

Clare Whitfield is a UK-based writer living in a suburb where the main cultural landmark is a home store/Starbucks combo. Clare nurtures an obsession with female characters that are as much villain as hero, and enjoys lurking in the blurry landscape between perception and reality.

She is the wife of a tattoo artist, mother of a benign dictator, and relies on her dog for emotional stability. Previously, Clare has been a dancer, copywriter, amateur fire breather, buyer, and a mediocre weightlifter. People of Abandoned Character is her first novel.

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