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Ripper, by Isabel Allende.

October 13, 2013

Ripper, by Isabel Allende.  Harper (2014), Hardcover, 496 pages.

An enjoyable mystery novel by an author popular for her magical realism and historical fiction.

With Ripper, Isabel Allende experiments with a genre new to her, but her new book is full of the exuberant writing that has delighted readers.  It is not magical or historical, but her unique characters and fanciful happenings are still present.  So is her sly wit and sharply critical comments on topics such as the human cost of war.  The book is set in San Francisco and is full of astute descriptions of Allende’s fellow citizens there.

The character around whom the plot circles is Amanda, a bright teenager in San Francisco who has joined with her loving grandfather and a cluster of teenagers in “Ripper,” an online game of solving murders.  In the past they have examined historical crimes but as a series of weird and seemingly unrelated murders occur around San Francisco, they become involved.

Amanda lives with her widowed grandfather, Blake, and her mother, Indiana, who earns a meager living from massage, aromatherapy, and other new age healing practices.  Indiana is the real center of the book. She extremely sexy and attracts male admirers. (I had trouble imagining her as being blond and blue-eyed the way Allende describes her, and I would have liked fewer descriptions of just how alluring she was.)  Two men compete for her attentions: a rich, sophisticated playboy and a veteran SEAL, retired from service after being wounded.  Amanda’s father is divorced from her mother but has continued friendly and frequent relations with them.  He heads a group within the San Francisco police that is supposed to solve murders.  Other unusual characters move in and out of the story.  They include a male transvestite and a pitiful woman seemingly about to die from cancer.

In the initial chapters, Allende jumps around, introducing and describing her various clusters of characters.  As I read I groped for any connections between them.  By the last third of the book, however, we gradually see the connections and feel the suspense between rising.  The ending is horrendous.

Allende displays her familiar skills in this book.  I found it fun to read, but not as good as her early magical realism novels.  I recommend this book to all Allende fans, to San Francisco residents and all those who love the city, and to mystery fans who won’t be put off by the author’s long lush descriptions.

I read this book as a pre-publication ebook from the publisher.  Thanks.  It will be out early next year.

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