I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been meaning to expand the types of books I read and review, especially by getting back into genres like mystery, thriller, and horror. Well the perfect opportunity to get started on this goal presented itself when a brand representative for Leo King contacted me about reviewing The Bourbon Street Ripper. The Bourbon Street Ripper is the first book in King’s Sins of the Father trilogy, a mystery series of the detective fiction subgenre. The representative hinted that there would be elements of the supernatural, but these didn’t seem to come into play much in the first book.
The Bourbon Street Ripper follows a handful of sleuths as they race to catch a copycat killer replicating the crimes of another serial killer who terrorized the streets of New Orleans two decades before. The central character is Robert Bergeron, a gruff and somewhat jaded detective who was intimately involved in the original Ripper case. Also forced to confront her traumatic past is eccentric mystery writer, Samantha “Sam of Spades” Castille. A child at the time of the original case, Sam is the granddaughter of the first Ripper and is now a suspect in the current investigation. Though estranged for the past 20 years, Detective Bergeron was a close family friend of Sam’s, and his strong protective feelings toward her draw them back into a close relationship as the case unfolds. Meanwhile, Sam meets a fellow mystery writer Richie Costellos who awakens feelings in her she didn’t even know she was capable of.
Set in New Orleans, The Bourbon Street Ripper has a fun (if a little cliché) gothic backdrop of organized crime, ancient family tensions, voodoo, and the occult. In this first book, you get just hints of the various secret cults and organizations that operate in the underworld of the Big Easy. There are many twists and turns in the story, some predictable and some pleasantly surprising. It has its moments of gore, but the real focus is on the investigation and the internal lives of the various characters involved in the case. I’ll warn you that you don’t find out who the killer is by the end of the book, so if you get invested in the first one, you’re probably committing to the whole trilogy.
One of the things I found most interesting about this book was the way in which it reversed some classic detective tropes. I discussed in an earlier post how detective fiction grew out of the gothic, with early detective characters like Dupin and Sherlock who both evince extraordinary intelligence and are known for their uncanny logical abilities. Their stories are generally told through a more relatable sidekick who serves as a stand in for the average reader. In The Bourbon Street Ripper, Bergeron is the main detective but it is his younger partner, Michael LeBlanc who is known for his intellect and preference for the logical over the emotional. LeBlanc, like Sherlock Holmes, is also skilled in martial arts. Attributing the traditional skills, quirks, and mental abilities to LeBlanc instead of Bergeron added more depth to the sidekick role and made for a much more interesting story.
Something I found less impressive about The Bourbon Street Ripper, however, was the way that it engaged in a particularly tiresome trope of the horror genre—punishing women for their sexuality. Slasher horror films are known for this. We all know the trope: the “slut” dies first. Well, the same rule seems to apply in Leo King’s world. In Bourbon Street, the serial killer’s victims are all sexually transgressive women in some way or another. I’m still holding out hope that this choice of victim gets addressed in a thoughtful and mature manner in the later books, but for now it comes off as a lazy horror technique which generally serves to control women’s actions and expression while also catering to the male gaze in erotic scenes of terror and torture.
In general, there were quite a few things about this book that, as a female reader, had me frequently banging my head against the wall. That aside (if that can be put aside), The Bourbon Street Ripper was a largely enjoyable detective thriller with a fast pace and a few unexpected twists. It was a fun introduction back into the genre, and I look forward to seeing how King matures as a writer as the series progresses.
What other thrillers or detective series can you recommend to me? What have you been reading lately? Let me know in the comments.