Thank you Brandy Purdy for sending me an autographed copy in exchange for an honest review!
Synopsis: It begins as a fairytale romance–a shipboard meeting in 1880 between vivacious Southern belle Florence Chandler and handsome English cotton broker James Maybrick. Courtship and a lavish wedding soon follow, and the couple settles into an affluent Liverpool suburb.
From the first, their marriage is doomed by lies. Florie, hardly the heiress her scheming mother portrayed, is treated as an outsider by fashionable English society. James’s secrets are infinitely darker–he has a mistress, an arsenic addiction, and a vicious temper. But Florie has no inkling of her husband’s depravity until she discovers his diary–And in it a litany of bloody deeds…
As in her newest book The Secrets of Lizzie Borden, Brandy Purdy combines fact with fiction in The Ripper’s Wife, and spins a twisted tale of murder and mayhem.
There have been many theories regarding the true identity of Jack the Ripper over the years. In 1992, James Maybrick’s supposed diary was “discovered” by Michael Barrett, an unemployed Liverpool scrap metal dealer. He originally claimed that it was given to him by a friend, although later on that story changed. In 1993 it was published as The Diary of Jack the Ripper. While his name isn’t mentioned, there are enough references in the diary which refer to what is known about Maybrick’s life that it’s seemingly apparent that it belonged to him. Included in the journal are passages detailing the slayings of the five victims of the Ripper. From the beginning the diary was the subject of controversy with many calling it a hoax. However many people vigorously defend it and insist it’s genuine.
This is what Brandy Purdy bases her story on, and what unfolds is a horrifying portrait of two people who never should have gotten married. I have to be honest and say no one in this novel is likable, which for me made the story a little difficult to get into. Florie is a naive, flighty southern belle who is extremely immature even considering she’s only nineteen. While the book’s synopsis describes James Maybrick as handsome, in actuality he was a portly man who was twenty-three years older than Florie. They had absolutely nothing in common and to be perfectly honest I didn’t understand the attraction. But, as in real life, in the book these two mismatched souls do wind up tying the knot, and in doing so doom themselves to a life of misery and heartbreak.
It’s after their bucolic honeymoon that Florie discovers James is not only a hypochondriac and drug addict, but that he’s also an abusive misogynist. It’s at this point I began to sympathize with Florie. While I’m still unsure of her reasons for marrying this relative stranger, she seemed to genuinely love him. She certainly didn’t expect to be not only rebuffed by English society, but physically and emotionally abused by her husband. Even worse, she has absolutely no one she can turn to for help. It’s really no wonder that after discovering James’s numerous affairs, that she also sought solace outside their marriage. About midway through the book Florie’s chapters start alternating with James’s as he details not only the murders, but also the events leading up to them. Through them you see how a mind unravels from years of drug abuse until it’s twisted into something truly evil. The story keeps going long after James’s death, following the trial and conviction of Florie, as well as her life after her eventual release from prison, up until her death in 1941. While these years are filled with trauma and pain there are some happier moments and at the time of her death, Florie seems to finally be at peace with herself.
The Ripper’s Wife is not an easy read. Some of the passages detailing the abuse that Florie suffers are truly horrifying. Even worse are the chapters that detail James’s/Jack’s crimes. The author doesn’t pull any punches regarding language, deviant sexual acts, and the actual murders themselves. I actually had to take some breaks from reading because of the dark and depressing nature of the story, but this didn’t make it any less compelling. While this is only the second book I’ve read by Brandy Purdy, it’s obvious to me that she’s a meticulous historical researcher and has the ability to turn unlikable characters like Florie and Lizzie Borden into ones you can emphasize with, and it’s made me want to catch up with the rest of her books.