Ok so. It is Victorian London and Jack the Ripper is ripping away and William James has been called in as a consult because he is a psychologist and philosopher (according to his Wikipedia page and also every second page of this book). So he and his brother Henry (not-yet-very-famous-novelist who will surely be revered once dead, right?) and his professional-invalid sister Alice combine their various cerebratory specialties to Catch a Predator.
And this is one of the difficulties with taking historical figures and making them do things they never did, is that you feel like you constantly have to be all, And here are some real factoids about William James, to justify my using him as a character when I really could have just made up some people and this would be the same story.
Because there’s almost no reason to use the Jameses except to make nerds like me pick it up. It is a total gimmick, and one that results in a tiny bit of square-quote-into-round-storyhole and a shit-ton of quasi-biographing. Navel-gazy quasi-biographing that interrupts the exciting, murderer-catchery bits, which is worse. And you need research to hold a book like this together, but the seams aren’t supposed to show as dreadfully as they do here.
Speaking of murderer-catchering, for all that they’re supposed to be merging their minds (which is, I understand, the BASIC PREMISE OF THE BOOK), the Jameses are not very collaboratey. In the interest of not upsetting his co-tectives, William keeps not-telling them very important things, like how someone tried to kill him (twice), or how the party rsvp from their suspect is eerily similar to the Ripper’s letters. This last bit of information is WHOLLY NOT UPSETTING and is also a clue, no? Report that shit.
And all this would all be fine and good if the writing was splendid, but Cohen is very telly. This is what just happened, and this is how everyone felt about it. And I’ve heard you should never adverb your dialogue tags because the tone should be clear from the context (which I don’t totally agree with), but Cohen has to adverb her ‘saids,’ though even when she says ‘she said smugly,’ I’m still not hearing it as smug. Or when Sickert (the maybe-killer) and Alice are discussing Alice leaving her bed for dinner and he’s all, I hope it will be worth it, and she’s like, I hope so, besides that being a super-awkward piece of dialogue (surely you mean ‘I hope so too‘) Alice goes on to be all, Here I am flirting with a man. And I’m like, Oh! Are they flirting?
And there are hints galore that Sickert is the Ripper, only all the hints reek of herring. Every time they talk to Sickert he’s saying super-murdery things like ‘Others must occasionally be sacrificed’ and for the last half of the book I’m all, If Sickert is the murderer this is going to be like that season of Project Runway where Sonny was killing it in all the challenges and then when they announce that the winner is….Sonny! everyone is all, Well obviously.
I will not tell you whether Sickert did or didn’t because finding that out was the sole purpose in finishing the book, and it was exceedingly not worth it.
Requisite ass-covering: book received from publisher.