If I had to choose one genre to read for the rest of my life, I’d choose mystery. I love true crime tv, podcasts like Serial, and I’ll forever have a special place in my heart for all of Mary Higgins Clark’s formulaic murder mysteries. My husband jokes that he sleeps with one eye open because I have an extensive knowledge of how to kill and get away with it. But seriously– suspenseful, spooky murder mysteries are my jam. I’ve read several great books lately that fit into this category, but this particular book, People Like Us by Dana Mele, still haunts me:
One girl is dead, found drowned in the lake on the grounds of a prestigious, private all-girls school. Unfortunately, Kay Donovan and her friends were the ones to find the dead girl, Jessica Lane, and now Kay is a suspect. Kay’s mean-girl ways combined with her part in the deaths of her brother and best friend don’t work in her favor. To complicate matters, Kay receives an email from Jessica, blackmailing her into ruining the lives of her friends if she wants to clear her own name.
Kay teams up with social outcast Nola whose computer hacking skills may help Kay save her reputation and land the soccer scholarship she’s worked so hard to earn. Their research casts each of the people in Kay’s popular inner circle in terrible light–perpetrators of bullying, cheating, doping and worse–and it’s hard not to judge Kay for her own ruthless behavior and efforts to salvage her own reputation. She is a deeply flawed protagonist.
When additional bodies surface, Kay must face her past transgressions and hope that she can outsmart the killer (or ghost?) before she’s framed for murder.
This is the best mystery book I’ve read in a long time. It’s chilling, and Dana Mele’s characters are fascinatingly messed-up. The ending is a doozie, too. I highly recommend the audiobook.
The Lure of the Lemp
I was almost giddy about the #plotdrivenlife experience I chose for this book: to visit a locally haunted location. In People Like Us, it’s easy to believe Jessica Lane is haunting Kay through the wicked emails Kay receives. I was thrilled to have an excuse to book a ghost tour to a place that is notorious for its gruesome history and world-wide acclaim as a haunted house: the Lemp Mansion.
The Lemp is a foreboding building that sits just a few streets away from the sprawling property occupied by Anheuser Busch-InBev in downtown St. Louis. Mike and I visited the Lemp on an ugly, cold night in November when the house’s main floor was full of murder mystery dinner party guests who seemed to be having the time of their lives. We were there for a paranormal tour of the other floors of the mansion, armed with both a night-vision camera and an EMF (electromagnetic field) detector to hone in on nearby spirits. Before we set out in search of ghosts, we were treated to some Lemp family history and an explanation of why the mansion is believed to be so haunted. Our tour guide from the St. Louis Paranormal Research Society explained that the lavish house was once owned by the Lemp family who made their fortune in beer brewing during the 19th and 20th centuries. Despite their vast fortune and successful business, three Lemp men are believed to have committed suicide in the mansion, and, while official records claim young Elsa Lemp Wright also committed suicide, there is evidence that she was murdered by her husband after returning from their (second) honeymoon. Regardless, the mansion will give you the creeps!
The house has been renovated to mimic how it would have looked during the Lemp’s occupancy, and on a paranormal ghost tour, the hallways and rooms you are exploring are lit with just enough light that you won’t trip, break your neck, and add yourself to the list of household dead. Mike and I stumbled around with others on the tour, eager to locate a ghost with our equipment. Mike swears he caught sight of something with the night-vision camera, but I didn’t have much luck with the EMF detector. Nonetheless, the house feels like it holds dark secrets, and though it’s an option, you would never catch me spending the night! The experience of touring the house motivated me to attend an event at my local library about the mystery surrounding Elsa Lemp Wright’s murder, and I’m chomping at the bit to check out this documentary which is now scheduled to be released in 2020, 100 years after Elsa’s death.
There is so much about the Lemp that I want to explore in more detail: information about the cave system below the house, the mental illness that seemed to curse the family, and the evidence that has earned the house a place on reputable lists of the most haunted places in the USA. Stephen Wright’s book, Lemp: The Haunting History, is a great place to start, if you’re curious like me.
A tour to the Lemp was the perfect #plotdrivenlife experience to match the eerie vibe of People Like Us. What haunted locations have you visited, and would you ever consider staying overnight as a guest at the Lemp?
When the worlds of Jack the Ripper and the Elephant Man collide, there’s no shortage of gore, ghosts and . . . good deeds?
A Taste for Monsters by Matthew J. Kirby
In 1888 London, Evelyn Fallow has seen her fair share of hardship. Orphaned and badly facially disfigured from her work in a match factory with poisonous phosphorus, the seventeen year-old approaches the matron at London Hospital for a job as a nurse. While the matron refuses her request, she offers Evelyn the job of maid for the hospital’s most unusual patient, Joseph Merrick, a man who is terribly deformed and commonly known as the “Elephant Man.” Desperate to get off of London’s tough and unforgiving streets, Evelyn accepts and gradually begins to befriend her benevolent charge.
Drawing of woman with “phossy jaw,” a condition common to women working with white phosphorus in a match factory in the 19th century.
Joseph Merrick, also known as the “Elephant Man.”
It is because of Mr. Merrick’s kindness that Evelyn believes ghosts begin to appear to him at night, desperate to take advantage of his tender heart. These aren’t just any ghosts, however. They are the ghosts of the victims of “Leather Apron,” also known as “Jack the Ripper.” These five spirits, Whitechapel prostitutes in life, are deeply haunted by unfinished business, and appear in Mr. Merrick’s room each night at precisely the time their lives were taken. The stress of the repeated and horrifying visits take a toll on the Elephant Man’s life, and Evelyn forces herself to return to London’s dangerous streets to help put the ghosts’ souls to rest.
Part historical fiction, part paranormal thriller, A Taste for Monsters is dark, suspenseful, and divine! Evelyn is a daring and tortured main character, and Mr. Merrick is especially memorable for his charity regardless of his limitations. Matthew J. Kirby has an interesting take on the identity of Jack the Ripper, too. This book is so worth the read and a great choice for anyone who enjoyed the 2017-18 Gateway Nominee, A Madness So Discreet.
I was only a few chapters into this book when I knew I wanted to host a Jack the Ripper documentary movie marathon as a #plotdrivenlife experience. I posted a “Who wants to join me?” message on Facebook, and I couldn’t believe how many of my friends were interested in Jack the Ripper!
So, this past Saturday, seven of us “Ripper Enthusiasts” met at my house to enjoy some treats and watch three documentaries with very different theories on Jack the Ripper’s identity. The first, a National Geographic production borrowed from the public library called Finding Jack the Ripper suggests the killer was a German sailor who was caught after a murder in New York City. While none of us bought this theory, this film includes digital autopsies of the Ripper’s victims to help viewers understand the magnitude of the victims’ injuries as well as how the killer’s violence escalated.
What is a Jack the Ripper party without a creepy mannequin, cupcakes with bloody bone sprinkles and blood-spattered decorations?
The second film, available through Netflix, was entitled, Jack the Ripper: Prime Suspect. It tries to prove that Frederick Bailey Deeming who murdered two of his wives and four of his children was also responsible for the Ripper murders. Deeming was in London during the time of the murders, had motive to kill prostitutes and shared killing rituals with the Ripper. It’s difficult to believe Deeming is Jack the Ripper because he lacked the skills that seem necessary to remove organs swiftly and precisely. Still, he is a strong suspect.
Wearing our top hats for the occasion. Clockwise: Mike and me, Shannon and me, Missy, Mernie and Brooke, and Shawn.
Finally, we watched Unmasking Jack the Ripper on YouTube, and I think we all liked this one best. The film provides detailed information about the living conditions in Whitechapel during the late 1800s, explaining why so many women were driven into prostitution. While the film doesn’t strive to convince viewers of the killer’s identity, it does make a strong case that Aaron Kosminski, a Polish barber, was Jack the Ripper. The film suggests a witness identified Kosminski and that two of the lead murder investigators believed him to be guilty of the heinous crimes. I’m not ruling him out!
There are other documentaries on my list to watch as there seems to be plenty of theories about Jack the Ripper’s identity. I’m especially interested in a series called American Ripper which suggests H.H. Holmes, the notorious killer featured in Erik Larson’s nonfiction book, The Devil in the White City, is Jack the Ripper. Thanks for the series recommendation, Shawn and Shannon!
By watching these documentaries which often include graphic images, I was able to better imagine the ghosts of the murdered women Matthew J. Kirby animates in A Taste for Monsters. These spirits haunt Evelyn and Joseph with their grisly wounds on full display, and I now fully understand why the ghosts’ presence was so agonizing for Joseph and alarming for Evelyn. This #plotdrivenlife experience enhanced my reading of Kirby’s book and made for an entertaining evening with friends!
Do you have a different Jack the Ripper theory? Please share in the comments.