Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review : What Alice Knew

What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper by Paula Marantz Cohen. Sourcebooks, 2010. (released Sept. 1)

[Source: Sourcebooks]

Though only Alice and Henry get a mention in the title, all three of the famous Jameses play a role in this tale. William James is called in by Scotland Yard to help solve the case of Jack the Ripper. Alice decides she and her brothers are perfectly suited to unravel the mystery with their combined talents. Marantz Cohen expertly weaves these historical characters into an historical mystery to create an intriguing yet plausible solution to this great unsolved crime. She also injects contemporary historical figures, including a cameo by William Chester Minor, the madman whose story is recounted in The Professor and the Madman, seamlessly.

I really enjoyed What Alice Knew. In addition to being a great fictional account of the still unsolved case of Jack the Ripper, it peaked my interest in this fascinating family. As with all books like this, I find myself wanting to know which details are accurate and which are pure fiction. I'll be spending a little time reading up on the Jameses in the next few days and perhaps looking into Marantz Cohen's earlier works. If, like me, you enjoy books that insert historical figures into fictional situations, you will no doubt like What Alice Knew. It is a well-constructed mystery from a talented author.

An aside: Henry James seem to inspire today's authors. Colm Toibin's The Master also features him as a main character. While a very different sort of book, The Master would make a good follow up read as it focuses on a later period of James' life. I've already read The Master, so I think it is finally time to tackle one of Mr. James' novels. Is there a particular Henry James novel you've enjoyed? I'd love to hear your recommendations for my first foray into this author's work.


  1. I'm fascinated with Jack the Ripper, so I bet I'd enjoy this book. Thanks for your review.

  2. I found you through Waiting on Wednesday...this book looks really interesting, so glad you blogged about it :)

  3. I love historical fiction books that make me want to learn more about the real-life historical figures!