He is my husband.
To honour and obey.
Until murder do us part.
London, 1888: Susannah rushes into marriage to a young and wealthy surgeon. After a passionate honeymoon, she returns home with her new husband wrapped around her little finger. But then everything changes. His behaviour becomes increasingly volatile and violent. He stays out all night, returning home bloodied and full of secrets.
Lonely and frustrated, Susannah starts following the gruesome reports of a spate of murders in Whitechapel. But as the killings continue, her mind takes her down the darkest path imaginable. Every time her husband stays out late, another victim is found dead.
Is it coincidence? Or is he the man they call Jack the Ripper?
As someone who is a real fan of books set in the Victorian period and all things slightly murder-y, you can see why I would be so excited to get the opportunity to review Claire Whitfield’s amazing People of Abandoned Character as part of the blog tour. This is definitely one of the Lockdown reads that I’ve most enjoyed and it’s set me off down a rabbit hole of re-reading Sarah Waters’ Affinity and looking up some stories about real life Victorian murders as I got so caught up in this beautifully rendered slice of Victoriana with a side order of true crime delight.
Susannah, our main character, has been brought up as a respectable and diligent young Victorian woman who is far from delighted to discover that her marriage to the eligible young surgeon turns out to have been less of a dream marriage and more of a nightmare situation. Their happiness on their honeymoon fades to a distant memory as they become like ships passing in the night and the man she married becomes a distant memory compared to the brutish and secretive character who she has to call her lawful husband Like many Victorian wives, she is absolutely powerless once she becomes a spouse and she turns to following the crimes happening outwith her household as a distraction to the crimimal way that she is being treated within it.
Their newly married life carries expectations that she feels have definitely not been met and her chance of any sort of happiness and fulfilment are vanishing rapidly, Susannah certainly seems to find her experiences as a respectable Victorian lady as being somewhat limiting and finds being trapped through circumstances very challenging . It is at this point that her awareness of how her marriage and the Whitehall crimes could well be connected starts to dawn on her and this starts to change the dynamics in ways that neither of them could have anticipated – this is when I really got totally drawn into this beautifully written and captivating period piece.
Susannah is a fascinating character and very much plays the part of a catalyst in this story – opening up a gateway into the murders in this story and allowing us to see them afresh and uncover aspects of them that may have previously been hidden from us due to the way that the Jack the Ripper murders have been reported through time. If like me you absolutely adored The Five then you will fid much to absorb you here and you’ll see the crimes in a new way given this fictional 21st century treatment The way that we get insights into elements of the past through Susannah’s experiences and fresh perspective really added to the feeling of this being a ‘real’ story and brought these murders to life through its pages.
People of Abandoned Character is a gripping and fascinating story with characters that stay vividly with you even when you aren’t reading it. I absolutely love Sarah Waters and normally find that all other writers pale into comparison alongside er, but People of Abandoned Character definitely gives her writing a very real run for its money. It is both a wonderfully rendered story that draws you in as well as asking the reader to think about important issues like female agency, abuse and power from some very interesting and original perspectives.
This is a really original and well-crafted debut and I think it will make a huge splash this autumn; I would absolutely love to see this novel brought to life on the screen as I think it would translate absolutely beautifully. There is so much more to say about this book, but I’m truly loath to spoil any of its impact by telling you too much; this is a novel that unfolds in such a compelling way that I really want you to experience it wholly for yourself and feel its power in the same way that I was able to.
Thank you so much to Gabriella Drinkald at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part in this blogtour and I definitely recommend that you buy your own copy and experience the power of this gripping and grisly dark and delightful read. Halloween is on the horizon and this would be the perfect mood-setter for this season of thrills and chills!
Writer On The Shelf
The Inspiration behind ‘People of Abandoned Character’ in Clare’s own words: ‘The book was initially inspired by Jack the Ripper, and newspaper articles from the time, which lead me to the idea that perhaps the Ripper may have been married. With this in mind, I wanted to create a complex and strong female protagonist who was prepared to do anything to keep her head above water, and succeed.
While based in a historical setting, the story has a contemporary appeal as the language is accessible, set in the Victorian era of the 1880s when years of austerity had taken their toll on the communities of an increasingly gentrified London. The novel explores the smoke and mirrors of perceived social mobility, the role of a wealthy society and their responsibility to the poor (or not as it may be the case), toxic relationships and narcissistic abuse, gender equality and freedom to pursue personal ambition.’
About Clare Whitfield: Clare Whitfield is a UK-based writer living in a suburb where the main cultural landmark is a home store/Starbucks combo. Clare nurtures an obsession with female characters that are as much villain as hero, and enjoys lurking in the blurry landscape between perception and reality.
She is the wife of a tattoo artist, mother of a small benign dictator and relies on her dog for emotional stability. Previously Clare has been a dancer, copywriter, amateur fire breather, buyer and a mediocre weightlifter.
People of Abandoned Character is her first novel.
Follow Clare on Twitter (@whitfield_riley) and Instagram (@clarerileywhitfield).