People of Abandoned Character – Clare Whitfield

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Harper Collins Australia

December 2020

  • ISBN: 9781838932749
  • ISBN 10: 1838932747
  • Imprint: Head of Zeus – GB
  • List Price: 32.99 AUD

Imagine the man you married was a murderer, in fact, one of the most infamous murderers in history. Susannah Chapman fears she is married to the monster who came to be known as Jack the Ripper.

Step into Victorian London where the wealthy and outwardly respectable live cheek-by-jowl with the dregs of society, each with their own sordid secrets: drugs, alcohol, violence, homosexuality, sexual perversions and cruelty. Sometimes the most dangerous are those who appear to be the most refined.

Born illegitimate to a mother not long out of childhood herself, Susannah becomes an orphan at five years old when her mother is brutally killed by one of her customers. Raised by grandparents the girl has always been a little different. Her kindly grandfather appreciates her more unusual nature but her strict grandmother despairs of her and is continually frustrated in her attempts to subdue what she sees as a wayward child. When her grandfather dies, Susannah assumes the role of carer for her ailing grandmother and dreams of a time when she will be free to make her own way in the world. Eventually that time arrives as Susannah nears thirty and she takes up training as a nurse at the London Hospital. Finally she feels she has achieved some independence and self-worth and with her closest friend, Aisling, makes a pretty fair nurse at a time when that profession is just beginning the transformation into the one we know today. When Aisling is killed by a violent drunk Susannah is devastated and begins to doubt her direction in life. But then she catches the eye of handsome young surgeon, Thomas Lancaster.

After a whirlwind romance, the pair are married but within weeks of their passionate honeymoon, cracks begin to appear feeding Susannah’s doubts about her own worth. Thomas is cruel and violent, capricious and erratic and as the weeks turn into months, his behaviour becomes more and more unpredictable. The newspapers are filled with lurid reports of the shocking murders of Whitechapel prostitutes and Susannah’s preoccupation with the details of these bring her to a strong suspicion that her husband could well be the violent perpetrator being sought by the police.

As the narrative proceeds the reader turns to first one and then another character, each of them with dark secrets, with growing unease while poor Susannah becomes more and more isolated and frightened for her own safety. Clare Whitfield has created in this, her debut novel, a marvellously wrought historical novel which swiftly becomes not just a murder mystery but a thriller with plot twists that are both unexpected and astonishing. It’s a page-turner of extraordinary depths – dare I say – a ripping yarn though not for the faint-hearted. There is liberal strong language and graphic bloody violence but a great read with a denouement that will make you gasp.

I would highly recommend it for anyone who loves a terrific suspenseful novel.

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