Escaping from Houdini (Stalking Jack the Ripper #3), by Kerri Maniscalco
Publish Date: September 18, 2018
Published by: Jimmy Patterson Books
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Mystery
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2 out of 5 stars)
Audrey Rose Wadsworth and her partner-in-crime-investigation, Thomas Cresswell, are en route to New York to help solve another blood-soaked mystery. Embarking on a week-long voyage across the Atlantic on the opulent RMS Etruria, they’re delighted to discover a traveling troupe of circus performers, fortune tellers, and a certain charismatic young escape artist entertaining the first-class passengers nightly.
But then, privileged young women begin to go missing without explanation, and a series of brutal slayings shocks the entire ship. The strange and disturbing influence of the Moonlight Carnival pervades the decks as the murders grow ever more freakish, with nowhere to escape except the unforgiving sea. It’s up to Audrey Rose and Thomas to piece together the gruesome investigation as even more passengers die before reaching their destination. But with clues to the next victim pointing to someone she loves, can Audrey Rose unravel the mystery before the killer’s horrifying finale?
Sad to say what was one of my most anticipated reads of this year turned out to be quite the disappointment. I read the first two books in this series last year and absolutely loved them, and so I was fully expecting to enjoy this one as well. However, with a combination of a plot that felt far too drawn out, dialogue that seemed over-the-top and confusing, and a sudden addition of a horrid love triangle, I could not bring myself to like this one as much I did the first two.
For starters, a book called “Escaping from Houdini” kind of lacked in the title character himself. Houdini was there, but barely, and did not really do much for the story itself, except to act as a sort-of catalyst for Audrey Rose’s deceitfulness towards Thomas. He appears a few times, spewing the word “ain’t” around to remind the reader that he grew up in America, and really only drives the story via Liza, Audrey Rose’s cousin, who has followed Houdini across the pond out of “love”. Audrey Rose, despite her own strong feminist views and belief in the right of women to do as they choose, decides to enter into a bargain with the ringmaster of the Moonlight Carnival, Mephistopheles, to help her darling cousin “escape” the evil clutches of Houdini’s influence and “save” her from making a terrible mistake by choosing to be with him.
So basically, Audrey Rose becomes a complete hypocrite just so this completely convoluted bargain can come into being that will force her to lie to Thomas, pretend to flirt with Mephistopheles (because apparently by being “close” to him will draw the other carnival performers to her and open them up to her and her investigation? What a bull way of making her stay close to Mephistopheles just to push the romantic feelings on them), and discover that maybe she isn’t as sure of her feelings for Thomas as she once thought. Well, you know, you’ve only known him…what has it been, three months? I guess it was bound to happen but maybe it should have come before semi-agreeing to marrying him in the last book?
Anyway, Audrey Rose just really irked me in this book because she kept making terrible decisions and kept leading her investigation through suspicion and not through evidence. From the start I knew who she should have been questioning to discover what the connections between the victims were and why they were targeted (and her Uncle allowing the captain of the ship cow him into leaving the victims’ families alone despite the obvious need to question them was so utterly ridiculous and an obvious plot device to force the investigation to be drawn out to unnecessary lengths), and yet she just kept trying to find different motives for different carnival performers instead, centering it all around Mephistopheles of course and the subsequent ruin of his carnival, without ever trying to figure out whythese people in particular were being murdered. But, you know, maybe then the murder case would have been solved a bit quicker, the story would have ended sooner, and the love-triangle drama wouldn’t have had enough time to play out. Oh, wait…
As I said, the plot just felt a little forced in places and a little confusing at times. Especially with Mephistopheles and Audrey Rose talking in metaphors and similes around each other to the point where I felt like I had no idea what was being said at certain moments. The whole bargain in itself and the minute details of it felt ridiculous and overdone just to make unnecessary drama between Audrey Rose and Thomas. Mephistopheles was just basically a carbon-copy of him, anyway, what with his arrogance and behavior, and barely made much of an impression in terms of being an optimal partner for Audrey Rose. He just didn’t feel like an actual character, but rather a caricature of one who is hidden behind a mask. If his character was supposed to cause enough drama to make the reader see by the end that Audrey Rose and Thomas were definitely meant to be, then the whole storyline there was complete rubbish because at this point in the series, most readers already know that they are meant to be and we don’t need a third party to make us question so.
Finally, the ending. Major rant ahead. [SPOILER] What the heck was that ending? I don’t get it at all. Here we are, watching Thomas and Audrey Rose parting ways, seeing them completely torn about it, with Thomas trying to stay strong because he was utterly hurt by how Audrey Rose deceived him and what went on between her and Mephistopheles, but also being the absolute perfect specimen of a man and not trying to stand in her way and stepping aside to let her do as she chooses. And meanwhile Audrey Rose is feeling her own heart break because she is scared that she cannot mend the rift she brought about between them and then Thomas is gone and I was left feeling awful and wondering what was to come next, if they would get back together again in the next book after much needed reconciliation and discussion about true feelings and desires and such. I was upset, but it wasn’t that too bad of an ending because after everything Audrey Rose did, I thought that maybe some time apart would do them some good to sort out their feelings a bit. Not too long, though. Like a week or two. A couple of days maybe.
But, then here comes the epilogue, waltzing in like like “LOL JK” and suddenly everything is fine again? Was this just an alternate ending? What happened to Thomas needing to stay in New York to help wrap up the details on the case they just dealt with on their way across the Atlantic? Was that just a lie so he could get her a fancy cane (and why doesn’t that have a hidden blade in it?) to show that he does forgive her? Does he forgive her? I don’t know anymore. That epilogue was just such a complete one-eighty from the previous chapter that I feel like I have no clue how I am supposed to feel about the end of this novel at all. [END SPOILER]
So along with a couple of plotholes, an unnecessary love-triangle, a drawn-out plot, semi-confusing dialogue, and multiple bad decisions that seemed out-of-character, this book just felt like an utter disappointment. I was just so angry at Audrey Rose for most of this book, and I did not like that feeling at all. I went in expecting a Thomas Cresswell and Audrey Rose Wadsworth mystery, complete with murder and sleuthing and watching their already amazing partnership blossom into even more. While I got the first two things, surely, the partnership was sadly struck a blow by an author who decided to try adding in a little drama that did absolutely not need to exist. It almost makes me not want to read the next book in the series, but since it is the last, I probably will and might just pretend that this one never existed.
Finishing the Series Challenge: 9 books read, 4 series finished