People of Abandoned Character by Clare Whitfield

‘We married in St Jude’s, Whitechapel, a tiny dilapidated church that appeared to have sprouted like a fungus between two unconcerned buildings in Commercial Street.’

In 1888, Susannah Chapman, a nurse, married Thomas Lancaster, a wealthy young doctor.  Because of her marriage, she loses her position (and independence).  And shortly afterwards, she discovers that Thomas is not the man she thought he was.  Her affectionate husband becomes moody and volatile, and prone to staying out at night.

When the first woman is found murdered in Whitechapel, Susannah follows the case with interest.  But the more she learns, the more she worries that Thomas might be the killer soon to be known as Jack the Ripper.

Is it coincidence that the murders occur on the nights when Thomas stays out late?  The housekeeper, Mrs Wiggs controls the household.  Susannah worries for her own safety and seeks help from Doctor Shivershev.  Susannah’s concerns threaten to overwhelm her, and she is no longer sure who she can trust.

We follow the story through the slums of Victorian Whitechapel, meeting the poor who live there and the well-heeled who visit … for various purposes.  Susannah was born poor, and desperately want to keep poverty behind her.  But many of the women of Whitechapel have no choice.

There are a couple of unexpected twists which make the story less predictable than I thought it might be.  If you enjoy historical fiction with a Gothic twist, then I can recommend this.  This is MS Whitfield’s first novel: I hope there will be others.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Head of Zeus for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith