What would you do if you thought you had married a murderer?
He is my husband.
To honour and obey.
Until murder do us part.
– People of Abandoned Character
People of Abandoned Character by Clare Whitfield will be published on October 1st with Head of Zeus. It explores toxic relationships and taps into our continued fascination with Jack the Ripper, while asking readers what would you do if you thought your husband was a murderer?
I am absolutely thrilled to be part of the blog tour for People of Abandoned Character today, a debut novel that MW Craven describes as ‘an astonishing book set in a Victorian London plagued by Jack the Ripper. Whitfield’s narrator is Susannah, an ex-nurse who rushed into a rapidly souring marriage with a wealthy surgeon and starts to believe that her husband might be Leather Apron himself. I’d be amazed if it isn’t dominating the shortlists come next year’s awards season’
I was hoping to be sharing my thoughts with you all today about this fascinating book but, unfortunately, due to a postal delay I just could not read it in time. HOWEVER I will rectify that as soon as possible and hope to bring you all my review next week. In the meantime I have an extract for you all to whet the appetite, so to speak, so I do hope you enjoy. I really am very excited about this one!
[ About the Book ]
London, 1888: Tormented by the death of her secret lover, Nurse Susannah Chapman rushes into marriage to a doctor. While attracted to her adoring, younger husband, she is more than aware her decision is at least partially driven by her ambition to escape a life of servitude to the labouring poor of the East End of London. After a passionate honeymoon, she returns home confident in her marriage. But then everything changes.
She quickly learns she has swapped her profession for a type of captivity; that of a Victorian middle-class housewife, feeling isolated in her home as her housekeeper refuses to acknowledge her as mistress. Her husband becomes increasingly volatile and distant, he stays out all night, returning home dark with secrets.
Following the first death in Whitechapel, Susannah’s interest is piqued. Lost in boredom and self-doubt, she becomes obsessed with the string of violent murders terrorising the city. Horrifyingly, she finds herself beginning to believe the charming young man she thought she had seduced for economic security, could well be involved in the crimes.
Is it coincidence? Or is her husband the man they call Jack the Ripper?
[ Extract – People of Abandoned Character ]
It would be fair to say that Whitechapel had developed into an embarrassing boil on the backside of London, which had a habit of pulling up its trousers and pretending it wasn’t there. England’s capital was the richest and most powerful city in the world, but you’d never know it going by neighbourhoods like Whitechapel. Throngs of fortuneseekers poured into London from every corner of the country and from the far reaches of the empire beyond – the Irish in a continuous dribble that ebbed and flowed, the Jews fleeing pogroms, the Chinese, the Indians, the Africans, the merchants – and the undesirables among them drifted east, to Whitechapel, like the waste sent out on the tide at Crossness. My mother too. The rich tarred us native poor of England as lazy and inept, but regardless of the truth or otherwise in that, we unfortunates had nowhere else to go and so we piled up on top of each other in the East End as if driven into a wall. If Whitechapel was the worst of London, the thirty lanes and courts of the Nichol were the worst of Whitechapel. The parishes of these parts didn’t have shitrakers, because tenants couldn’t pay, and nor could we afford lighting, so the streets were deep in foul-smelling rubbish and swilling with blood and urine from the tanneries and abattoirs. At night it was a lawless, pitch-black wilderness. The terraced buildings were dry and brittle on the outside and dank and swollen inside. They were crammed to bursting: a single terrace would have sixty or seventy residents, with every adult paying an extortionate rent as a percentage of their pathetic earnings. Many had more than one family sharing a room, with only a hung sheet to separate them. Adults and children slept naked like fish in a bucket; babies were made and waste was excreted all in the same room. Rotten staircases and ceilings collapsed and the wallpaper. rippled with vermin. Some lived in inches of filthy water in the flooded cellars, breathing in bacteria and disease. Everywhere stank, thick with the stench of sweat and shit and whatever odour came with the trade of that court’s inhabitants: phosphorus, smoked fish, meat. Windows were either black with coal dust or broken and patched up with sacking or newspaper. Not that anyone ever opened them, as the reek from outside was worse. A few years living like that and our lungs never recovered. Little wonder that reaching thirty years of age was considered an achievement. Strange to say, but the putrid terraces of the Nichol and the other Whitechapel slums were the most profitable in London. So many tenants, and so few improvements ever made. The better classes bemoaned our depravity and fecklessness and yet the buildings were owned by the very pontificating politicians, clergymen and lawmakers that professed to serve those they so despised. Such was the bleak existence I considered myself fortunate to have escaped.
[ Bio ]
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.
Twitter ~ @whitfield_riley
Instagram ~ @clarerileywhitfield