By J. H. Bográn
You thought you knew him. You were dead wrong.
Carver Young dreams of becoming a detective, despite growing up in an orphanage with only crime novels to encourage him. But when he is adopted by Detective Hawking of the world famous Pinkerton Agency, Carver is given not only the chance to find his biological father, he finds himself smack in the middle of a real life investigation: tracking down a vicious serial killer who has thrown New York City into utter panic. When the case begins to unfold, however, it’s worse than he could have ever imagined, and his loyalty to Mr. Hawking and the Pinkertons comes into question. As the body count rises and the investigation becomes dire, Carver must decide where his true loyalty lies. Full of whip-smart dialogue, kid-friendly gadgets, and featuring a then New York City Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, Ripper challenges everything you thought you knew about the world’s most famous serial killer.
The first known serial killer in modern history, the one that single-handedly defined the term Jack the Ripper, is back for more. Stefan Petrucha’s new thriller novel—RIPPER—shows the Whitechapel murderer’s exploits in America. From Hell, to Hell’s Kitchen? You bet!
What prompted the idea for a novel about Jack the Ripper in the New Continent?
I used the Ripper once before, as a quasi-supernatural villain, in THE SHADOW OF FRANKENSTEIN. That was a licensed novel sequel to the Universal classic, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN that took place in London. There, I treated him more like a classic monster than a real-life killer.
Years ago, several nonfiction authors theorized that Saucy Jack had fled to the US after the Whitechapel killings. I’ve since discovered that no less than six Ripper suspects were known to have visited New York City, and at least one unsolved killing in Manhattan was thought, at the time, to have been his work. I always thought that was an intriguing idea. Not that we’ve ever had a lack of serial killers, but Jack is the granddaddy of them all, and he seemed somehow safer when he was across the ocean.
At the time, a friend and I tried writing a screenplay based on the idea. Called WESTERN JACK, which was set on the frontier, but it never quite gelled, perhaps because the Ripper is such an urban creature.
Past that, I love young adult epics, Harry Potter, obviously, and the Peter and the Starcatchers series. For a long time I’ve wanted to something similar, except grounded in reality. In fact, I like to describe RIPPER as being sort of like Harry Potter, except without magic and with a serial killer.
Steampunk also appeals to me, and I greatly enjoyed the world invented in Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy. Here again, I’ve always been more intrigued by the actual technology that existed in the past, such as the electric cars and Alfred Beach’s pneumatic subway system featured in RIPPER – of which many people may not be aware.
So, looking at it from the outside, it may seem an odd combination, but it felt natural to me.
What kind of research did you have to do to prepare for this?
Tons! I have a Manhattan street map from period where nearly all the buildings are individually drawn. I’ve since marked with all the locations in the book, and used it to time thing out. I also have everything from train schedules to magazine, as well as scores of photos. Past that, I read several books from or about the Ripper and the Gilded Age. A lot of that’s outlined at the end of the book.
The biggest surprise for me wasn’t the technology, which was certainly a lot of fun, or the theories about the Ripper, – it was then-police-commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
Sure, I’d seen TR charge fearlessly into battle in sundry films, but I always figured those had to be exaggerations. Nope. Other than actual biographies, I’ve yet to see a work of fiction that does the man justice. He was an adventurer, a cowboy, a sheriff, a jingoist warrior, a conservationist and a progressive social reformer, all rolled up in one. The man was drop-dead fascinating. In RIPPER, where possible, I try to quote what he actually said.
Can you tell us about the main character?
Carver Young is an orphan, just turned fourteen. He’s bright, but “scrawny”, and his mind is steeped in the cheap dime novel detective literature of the day. Imagining himself an expert on the city, he dreams of being a detective they way a 21st century kid might dream of being a superhero.
When the orphanage moves, and its older residence are kicked out, he’s forced to face a harsher reality. He winds up adopted by Albert Hawking, a retired detective. Carver thinks his dreams have come true, but Hawking is a cranky pain in the ass who lives in a psychiatric asylum so he can study the criminally insane. Worse, as Carver searches for his real father, he becomes convinced his dad is responsible for a series of bloody Ripper-like murders.
It is a rude awakening.
Is there more than one antagonist? What can you share with us about him/her or them?
Carver not only has to deal with his cranky-pants mentor Hawking, and the Ripper, he’s also introduced to a secret detective agency, the New Pinkertons. He adores all their gadgets, but when they hold back clues from Roosevelt and the police, Carver finds himself squarely on the outs with them. In fact, once they convince Roosevelt Carver is mentally unbalanced, Carver is on the outs with everyone – except a few old pals from orphanage.
Is this your first historical thriller?
Depends on your definition. One of my first books, DARK AGES: ASSAMITE, more rightly dark fantasy, took place during the fall of Constantinople in 1453. I also wrote a book for a Doctor Who spin-off series called Time Hunter that takes place in London after WWII. That was entitled, THE TUNNEL AT THE END OF THE LIGHT.
Those were both pretty thrilling, but RIPPER doesn’t have the same fantastic elements, and so probably falls more squarely in the thriller genre.
Is there a book trailer?
Philomel/Penguin hired an outside firm to do a trailer, and they did an absolutely amazing job. At thirty seconds, it’s short and sweet, at thirty seconds, and everything I’d like a trailer to be. The views are rising in leaps and bounds, so maybe I’m right.
Here is a direct link, or scroll down to watch the trailer at the end of this article.
Visiting your website I discovered about your comic book streak. How did that come about?
I learned to read by having my grandfather read me comic books when I was three. That began a lifelong love and a huge collection. The collecting lasted up until my early teen years, but the love continued.
Jim Salicrup, a pal who lived across the street from me in the Bronx when I was ten, shared the interest, and later became my editor, first at Topps Comics, with The X-Files, and now at Papercutz, with everything from Nancy Drew to the Power Rangers. In between, I worked for about a dozen other companies, writing both creator-owned and licensed material.
What are you currently working on?
I’m now hard at work on the as-yet-untitled RIPPER 2. I also recently handed in the second book of my zombie detective series for Ace/Penguin. The first, DEAD MANN WALKING, came out last year to rave reviews. The new one, DEAD MANN RUNNING will be out this September.
Past that, I’m doing a few graphic novels, and hope to start a follow-up to my non-fiction book with Ryan Buell, star of the A&E paranormal reality series, PARANORMAL STATE.
I’d hope to sleep at some point, but I’m having too much fun.
A couple of favorite jacket blurbs or reviews:
“Ripper is filled with action, engaging dialogue, likeable characters, and a bevy of steampunk gadgets sure to appeal to the mechanically and technologically leaning. Ripper is hard to put down—so prepare yourself for a few scary nights.” ~THE NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS
“This exhilarating, history-bending, nonstop action story crowded with mind puzzles, chases, fight scenes, and intricate plot twists will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the last page’s final revelation.” ~HORN BOOK
“Petrucha’s story hits the ground running and doesn’t let up…” ~PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY
“…a rollicking story full of cannot-put-it down twists and turns.” ~VOYA
“A roaringly good adventure.” ~BOOKLIST
“…a well-crafted romp through yesteryear’s New York and an enticing companion for it.” ~KIRKUS REVIEWS
“I mean wow! Really just WOW!” ~BOOKS WITH BITE
A fan of comic books, science fiction and horror since learning to read, in high school and college he added a love for all sorts of literary work, eventually learning that the very best fiction always brings you back to reality, so, really, there’s no way out.
An obsessive compulsion to create his own stories began at age ten and has since taken many forms, including novels, comics and video productions. At times, the need to pay the bills made him a tech writer, an educational writer, a public relations writer and an editor for trade journals, but fiction, in all its forms, has always been his passion. Every year he’s made a living at that, he counts a lucky one. Fortunately, there’ve been many.
To learn more about Stefan, please visit his website.
Photo credit: Sarah Kinney