Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Name of The Star by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the Star is a fantastic novel that combines a ghost story with history, mystery and suspense. I don't generally read paranormal, vampire or werewolf fiction but this simply looked too interesting to pass up.

Aurora (Rory) Deveaux, from Benouville, Louisiana, is a senior who has accompanied her parents to England. While her parents do a year's sabbatical teaching American law at the University of Bristol, Rory is attending Wexford, a sixth form college, in the East End of London. Upon her arrival in London, Rory finds the city abuzz with rumours of a Jack the Ripper copycat. She learns that someone has been imitating the infamous Ripper by murdering a young woman on the anniversary of the first Ripper murder and in the same location. Despite all the hype about the murder and its similarity to the first Ripper murder, Rory commences to settle in at Wexford, meeting her roommate Julianne Benton (Jazza) and a cute guy named Jerome. She finds herself coerced into joining the field hockey team by the "Call me Claudia" whom Rory is convinced spends her time "wrestling large woodland animals".

Life seems pretty good at Wexford but soon all of London including Wexford, is caught up in "Rippermania". After two murders are committed, all of London waits tensely for the third and fourth murders - the double event of September 30th, mimicking Jack the Ripper's murders. When the third murder occurs, Jerome, whom Rory likes, suggests she and Jazza sneak out of their dormitory and come over to watch things from the rooftop of Aldshot, the boy's residence. Rory and Jazza do this but when they return to their residence and are sneaking back inside, Rory sees an odd-looking bald man walking by. He stops to talk to her, saying good night but when Rory asks Jazza about the man, she discovers that strangely, Jazza did not see him, even though he was directly in front of her. The next morning the body of the fourth victim lies on the green in front of Wexford and it seems that the man Rory saw was possibly the Ripper copycat.

Soon a CCTV video surfaces on the internet of the actual murder of one of the victims. It shows the actual murder but the murderer isn't visible in the footage. After the murder on the Wexford campus, Jazza and Rory get a new roommate, Bhuvana Chodhari (Boo) who seems out of place. Rory soon discovers that Boo is not a student and when she follows her she sees Boo meeting Stephen, a policeman, and a woman from the 1940's who is actually a ghost. Boo and Stephen take her to meet Callum, a London transit worker - the third member of their group which is part of a top secret British police service that investigates ghosts and their activity.

Rory comes to the chilling realization that she is seeing people that others cannot see - ghosts of people. She learns that after her recent near death experience, she has developed this unique ability. She now realizes that the man she saw that night while sneaking back into her residence is the Ripper and that he is a ghost. Her knowledge of the killer and her ability to sight "Shades" as these ghosts are called has placed Rory in serious danger. But danger or not, Rory knows this new Ripper must be stopped.
From this point on, author Maureen Johnson weaves an intricate and fascinating story of this modern day Ripper revealing his history and the motive behind his killing spree. The story builds to a fast paced and exciting finale, but along the way we are treated to the historical details of the original Ripper murders.

Johnson takes some time to set the stage and develop the character of Rory, life in London and school life at Wexford but this is well worth the effort because she creates a realistic setting and a believable character the reader can identify with.

Although all the ends are nicely tidied up, The Name of The Star could easily have a sequel. I hope Maureen Johnson will consider doing this!

Book Details:
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
New York: Putnam & Sons 2011
374 pp.

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