Sunday, March 6, 2016

Historical fiction meets mystery in Sharlene Almond's Initiated to Kill - Book Review


Two men, two different generations, both initiated into a powerful organisation that throughout history has sought control and use their power for destruction.
Two men leaving behind a wake of murder, revenge and vengeance. Two men that will stop at nothing, playing a game that only they know the rules.
One man roams the dark London streets for his victims, preying on women of the night. While the other stalks his victims in Seville, Spain; knowing that only he could uncover the true motives of one of the world’s most infamous serial killers – Jack the Ripper.

Book Review

Initiated to Kill by Sharlene Almond is a historical thriller and mystery alternating between modern day Spain and late 19th century Britain, the time of the notorious Jack the Ripper.

The book is good but not a light read; the reader has to be one that doesn't mind being confused at times.

There are two types of narration in the novel, third person for recounting events and sometimes the thoughts of certain characters, as well as the first person for who we later discover is Annabella, a student at Seville University. There are also letters written by Jack the Ripper.

Annabella has a scar on the back of her neck, while she doesn't have complete memory of how she got the scar; she knows that on that day she lost her ability to hear.

There are several mysteries in Initiated to Kill, some are major and some minor. Sharlene Almond constantly gives the reader bread crumbs of information, keeping the novel interesting at all times.

One of the things I enjoyed about the novel was Annabella's insights. Being deaf, she has to rely on her other instincts and observations of facial expressions, enabling her to decipher more than what people actually hear. She is able to decipher tiny gestures that can easily be invisible to the average person but not to her.

I also liked the short chapters in Initiated to Kill, which, along with pace, help the novel progress quickly especially since it's a long novel.

"But now, something was approaching. Something that felt like a train hurtling along the tracks, unable to stop or slow down. A train that would end in a wreck, lives ruined and lives lost."

The novel opens with a scene from the past related to masonic events and rituals. Shortly after, we are introduced to the mystery of a missing girl and the detectives Valero and Rivero, who despite trying hard to find the culprit(s), are always a step or two behind.
Until chapter 87, the perpetrator is a mystery, only referred to as "he" and "him". From one side, the investigators don't know who he is, and from the other, we as readers see him luring the girls, who see him as someone they trust but we don't get his name.

The novel has a lot of characters, but each of them has a role to play. At first, I thought there was no need to mention the names of the prostitutes from the Jack the Ripper scenes, but later I realised that these names were the actual names of the victims from that period, highlighting the historical aspect of the novel.

"A glass smashed, a door banged closed. Silence filled her ears. An unwanted tear ran down her cheek. She peered at the sun, wishing the magic that would turn the moon to the sun would take her away. But nothing would rescue her, and she could not leave."

Usually when the reader feels that an answer to one of the many questions has been revealed, several more arise.

One of the things that didn't go well with me in Initiated to Kill was the going to and back in the timeline. There is the time of Jack the Ripper, which is clear, but there are references to Annabella's childhood, other events in the past and events in the present. There is a lot of jumping between the present and the past, which in turn is divided into several periods, some are from the late 1800s and some are from the 20th and 21st centuries.
I would have preferred that the going in back in time parts were clearer, especially for Annabella and in order: 1999, 2000, 2001 and so on.

I also did not enjoy not knowing who was speaking or who the character in front of me was in several chapters. There was a lot of he/she that caused more confusion than suspense – for me at least.

There are parallel assassins across time; there is Jack the Ripper and a modern day psychopath with similar traits. I liked making a kind of compare and contrast, especially after delving deeper into the novel.

Once the reader feels they've got a grip on things, the author catapults us backwards or forwards in time and things become confusing once more.

"Another night of dreams left a nauseous feeling in my gut. That something was going to happen. I never believed in psychics, never believed I had any ability. But the overwhelming sense that something bad was going to happen intensified every night."

An interesting and new element in Initiated to Kill was the introduction of a new character towards the end of the novel, which added to the mystery and overgrowing list of suspicious characters.

The overall pace of the novel is quick, but it picks up significantly towards the end with a lot of action and chasing of the culprits or more victims. However, this rise in pace brings in additional confusion, especially when the police discover that there seems to be several perps.

My copy has several typos and spelling mistakes – that bothered me, a lot. There was also a lot of repetition in certain places like:
"Stepping back, he allowed them into his spacious office. Mahogany furniture dominated the spacious office."

Furthermore, two other mysteries arise at the end of the novel, namely: the identity of Annabella's father and the reason why the perpetrator wants her dead.

I both liked and disliked Almond's way of leading – or misleading – the reader in thinking who the perpetrator is and guessing at other events and character in the novel.

"Celestina's absence was like a hot coal refusing to extinguish."

A reader of Initiated to Kill would also need to be strong enough to handle some gritty and grotesque scenes, particularly those related to Jack the Ripper. The novel also requires a lot of patience and thinking. It's not a book you can read before you go to sleep (it's gritty in some parts) and it needs someone who is alert and ready to think.

Sharlene Almond, is applauded for the massive amounts of research carried out for Initiated to Kill, as well as the beautiful descriptions used with a variety of places, especially the University of Seville.

The confusion aspect in the novel was tiresome for me; hence, my overall rating is 3 stars.

Note: I received a free copy of Initiated to Kill from author Sharlene Almond in exchange for an honest review.

Note: Although I finished this novel a couple of months ago, it's taken me a while to write my review due to the complexity of the novel and the massive amount of bookmarks and notes I've put in and written. (My apologies for the delay)

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