By Isabel Allende
Translated by Ollie Brock and Frank Wynne
Available now from Harper (HarperCollins)
Isabel Allende has a tremendous reputation, and I was excited to see that her latest novel was genre: a thriller. However, her literary roots are obvious. The crimes and their investigation tend to take a background to character vignettes and digressions.
At first, I thought that RIPPER would focus on teenage Amanda and her leadership of a group of kids (and her grandfather) determined to research true crimes. But the book quickly turns its focus to her mother, Indiana, and Indiana's various loves, customers/patients, and friends. Although Indiana seems entirely peripheral to the crimes, it doesn't take a great detective to realize she'll be central at the end. (It's that fact that gave away who the killer was for me, although there was a brief moment where I doubted my own guess.)
Thus, RIPPER took awhile to capture my attention. There was much flipping between a large cast, and I didn't find Indiana all that compelling. She's a touch too beloved by every other character. However, I read it while waiting for car repairs, which forced me to push through and eventually fall into the rhythm of the novel.
I particularly liked the setting. RIPPER is set in San Francisco and makes good use of the city's various neighborhoods, social classes, gay friendliness, and reputation for hippie-ness. Also, the various characters seemed to connect in natural ways, although it took awhile to put together who knew who and how. To be fair, that seemed to be Allende's design.
I think that RIPPER has a bit too much literary fiction in its blood to be a truly compelling thriller. The same details about the crimes are endlessly rehashed, and since the police characters aren't the focus, there's rarely an actual scene with someone discovering a new clue, just reporting it. I must admit, I'd also rather read a novel about ambitious, morbid Amanda than healing, maternal-except-with-her-daughter Indiana. It was fun to read a thriller that didn't pay much attention to the conventions of its genre. I enjoyed RIPPER by the end, but think I'd've given up if I had more with me to read.