Following Audrey Rose Wadsworth’s harrowing adventures in Romania, she finds herself on board a cruise from Liverpool to New York City with her uncle and of course her dearest friend, Thomas Cresswell. With stolen kisses and whispered promises, she and Thomas are more than happy to be trapped on a six night cruise across the ocean especially as their chaperone is prone to taking long naps.
When bodies begin to turn up, though, Audrey Rose and her Uncle begin to investigate with the help of Mr. Cresswell. The investigation into the ship’s carnival entertainment yields far more than anyone was bargaining for.
What is Escaping From Houdini about?
The third installment of Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series, this book is about Audrey Rose and Thomas Cresswell navigating romance and murder at the same time. While in the previous two books an attraction has been clear between them, they now engage in a somewhat clandestine relationship that is largely approved of by their chaperone. But instead of a romantic cruise, the two are thrown into another gruesome investigation of murder when their dinner companion is discovered dead during the carnival’s first show.
In order to investigate the carnival members themselves, Audrey Rose strikes a bargain with the ringmaster Mephistopheles that may bring her closer to discovering the killer but also threatens her relationship with Mr. Cresswell. What’s more, family trouble begins to stir when Audrey Rose’s cousin, Liza, becomes involved after her mysterious disappearance from home is reported to them aboard the ship.
Genre: YA Mystery and Thriller
As with the whole series up to this point, the book is a YA novel that concerns mysterious murders and brings the protagonists up close and personal with the killer.
Tropes: Love Triangle?
While Audrey Rose has been admired before, she has never been strongly flirted with nor flirted back aside from her blossoming relationship with Thomas Cresswell. Her deal with Mephistopheles, though, involves a farce to convince the carnival she is trustworthy. The farce goes a long way to convincing others that the two have secret trysts and causes conflict with Thomas, who is unaware of their bargain’s terms. Though Audrey Rose never really considers not being with Thomas, it was a bit of a foray into the infamous love triangle territory of YA.
Plot: A bit o’ magic
The carnival includes several adept sleight of hand practitioners, tarot card readers, fortune tellers, and of course Harry Houdini himself (fictionalized of course). The murders they are trying to solve as well as the carnival’s presence on the ship itself combine to create a bit more of a magical element to the plot. Of course, Audrey Rose being scientifically minded, much of the magic is dissected after its initial wonder so that she may understand the mechanics of it.
As has been the trend this whole series, Maniscalco drew me in from the start and this was a very pleasantly quick read. Audrey Rose continues to be a character I enjoy the perspective of, and it was actually fun to read about her letting loose and upsetting the rules in a new way. Her PTSD from the Ripper case is no longer at the forefront of her life, having run more of its course in Hunting Prince Dracula which I felt was a smart shift from the traumatic to the more romantic, considering she and Thomas now have a budding relationship with the promise of a future together. Additionally, this time the mystery of the murderer was not as patterned as the past two novels. Whereas the previous two murders have played out in the same exact pattern with clear red herrings and no grip on who the real killer was, this book featured too many potential subjects for anyone to figure out the murderer until he revealed himself.
While I liked Mephistopheles, and I somewhat liked him and Audrey Rose flirting, I felt the inclusion of the love triangle was largely unnecessary. For Audrey Rose’s character it provides a chance to prove her love for Thomas is concrete and she wants a future with him. But in a series like this were life or death stakes are frequently encountered by the characters, I’m not really sure that kind of proof was needed. Nor do I think the proof needed to be provided by a faux love triangle. That being said, I don’t really have anything to put in “The Bad” section, so that makes the love triangle my only real “criticism.”
As always, I loved this story. The world that Maniscalco creates is fun and interesting, dark and edgy, and witty and lovely. I like the inclusion of notes at the end about the historical fact that influences the fiction, as well as the fact that Maniscalco is not afraid to bend history and make it a little different. It could almost be considered that from the moment she decided who Jack the Ripper really was, she created an alternative timeline in history. I appreciate the risks she takes with upping the stakes personally for the characters, as well. Love triangle aside, Audrey Rose came out of her shell a bit more in this book and I felt that was good for fleshing her out, as well as providing depth to her relationship with Thomas. Altogether, I fully recommend reading this series (though I still need to read the last one).