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Stalking Jack the Ripper: Read an excerpt from James Patterson's imprint

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Robert Burleson

Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper is the first YA book under James Patterson’s JIMMY imprint — and while it won’t hit shelves until Sept. 20, EW has your exclusive sneak peek at the cover and the book’s first chapter.

“Part of our mission at JIMMY Patterson is to create books that kids will finish and immediately say, ‘Please give me another book,'” Patterson tells EW of his decision to publish Stalking Jack the Ripper. “I have no doubt that Stalking Jack the Ripper will fulfill that mission. It’s the first young adult novel that I chose, thanks to its fresh and compelling take on the ever-fascinating Ripper mystery. It would certainly have been unusual for a young woman in Victorian-era London to be doing something so outrageous as performing autopsies to track down a serial killer – and you’ll find that the book’s inspiringly modern protagonist does just that.”

Check out the cover and excerpt, below:

Excerpt from Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Chapter One

Preliminary Incision

Dr. Jonathan Wadworth’s Laboratory, Highgate

30 August 1888

I placed my thumb and forefinger on the icy flesh, spreading it taut above the breastbone as Uncle had showed me.

Getting the preliminary incision correct was imperative.

I took my time eyeing the placement of metal upon skin, ensuring proper angling for the cleanest cut. I felt Uncle hovering behind me, studying my every move, but had my sights set entirely on the blade in my hand.

Without hesitation, I dragged the scalpel from one shoulder to the sternum, taking careful pains to push as deeply as I could. My brows raised a fraction before I schooled my face into an unreadable mask. Human flesh flayed much easier than I’d anticipated. It wasn’t much different than cutting into a pork loin prior to its roasting; a thought that should have been more disturbing than it was.

A sickeningly sweet smell wafted from the incision I’d made. This cadaver wasn’t as fresh as others. I had a sinking suspicion not all our subjects were obtained through proper legal or voluntary measures and was regretting waving away Uncle’s earlier offer of a breathing apparatus.

Foggy wisps of breath escaped my lips, but I refused to give into building shivers. I stepped back, my slippers lightly crunching sawdust, and examined my work.

Blood barely seeped up from the wound. It was too thick and dead to flow crimson, and too foreign to be truly frightening. Had the man been dead less than thirty-six hours, it might’ve spilled onto the table then onto the floor, saturating the sawdust. I wiped the blade on my apron, leaving an inky streak in its wake.

It was a fine incision indeed.

I readied myself for the next cut, but Uncle held a hand in the air, stalling my movement. I bit my lip, despising that I’d forgotten a step from his lesson so soon.

Uncle’s ongoing feud with Father—which neither one claimed to remember its origin, but I recall well enough—had him wavering on continuing my apprenticeship. Proving myself incapable would not help my case, especially if I hoped to attend school the next morning.

“One moment, Audrey Rose,” he said, plucking the soiled blade from my fingers.

A sharp scent sprung into the air, mixing with the stench of decaying organs as Uncle uncorked a bottle of clear liquid and splashed it onto a cloth. Antiseptic was prevalent in his basement laboratory and amongst his blades. I should’ve remembered to wipe the other one down.

I would not make the same mistake again.

I glanced about the basement where several other bodies were lined up along the wall, their pale limbs stiff as snow-covered branches. We were going to be here all night if I didn’t hurry, and Father, the all-important Lord Edmund Wadsworth, would send for Scotland Yard if I wasn’t home soon.

Given his station, he’d probably have a small army out patrolling for me.

Uncle recorked the bottle of carbolic acid, then handed me another scalpel resembling a long, thin dinner knife. Its edge was much sharper than the last blade’s was. Using the sterilized tool, I mimicked the same incision on the opposite shoulder, then made my way down to the deceased’s navel, stopping just above his belly button.

Uncle hadn’t warned me how hard it would be, cutting down to the rib cage. I stole a glance at him, but his gaze was fixed hungrily on the corpse.

At times the darkness in his eyes terrified me more than the dead we butchered.

“You’ll need to crack the ribs open before reaching the heart.”

I could tell Uncle was having a difficult time restraining from doing the deed himself. Corpses kept him company most nights, like intriguing textbooks; he cherished dissecting them and discovering the secrets held between the pages of their skin and bones. Before obsession could override his lesson, I quickly broke the rib cage apart, exposing the heart and the rest of the viscera.

A foul odor hit me full in the face, and without meaning to, I staggered back, nearly placing a hand over my mouth. It was the opening Uncle had been waiting for. He moved forward, but before he could push me aside, I shoved my hands deep into the abdomen, feeling around in squishy membranes until I found what we were looking for.

I steeled myself against the task of removing the liver, then accepted the blade from my uncle once more. After a few slices and tugs, the organ came lose.

I plopped it onto a waiting specimen tray with a slick thud, resisting the urge to wipe my hands on my apron. Having Uncle’s servants clean a little blood was one thing, the gooey blood and mucus now coating my fingers was quite another.

We couldn’t afford losing another lot of maids, and Uncle could ill afford having any more rumors flitting about. Some people already thought him mad enough.

“What is your medical deduction on how this man expired, Niece?”

The liver was in ghastly shape. Several scars ran along its length and width, giving the appearance of dried-out rivers and tributaries. My first guess was this man had been no stranger to his drink.

“It appears he died of cirrhosis.” I pointed at the scarring. “His liver has been shutting down for quite some time, I believe.” I walked around to his head and pulled one of his eyelids back. “Slight yellowing around the whites of his eyes is also present, furthering my suspicion he’s been dying quite slowly for several years.”

I walked back to the liver and carefully removed a cross section to study under the microscope later, then rinsed it and set it in a jar for preservation. I’d need to label it and add it to the wall of other pickled organs. It was important to keep meticulous records of every postmortem.

Uncle nodded. “Very good. Very good indeed. And what of—”

The door to the laboratory crashed against the wall, revealing a silhouetted male. It was impossible to see exactly what he looked like or how old he was, with a hat tugged so low over his brow and his overcoat practically touching the ground, but he was very tall. I took an involuntary step backward, hoping Uncle would brandish a weapon, but he seemed unimpressed with the dark character before us.

Ignoring my presence completely, the male focused only on my uncle. “It’s ready, Professor.”

His voice was smooth, and hinted at youth. I arched a brow, intrigued by what a student and my uncle were up to.

“So soon?” Uncle checked the clock on the wall, looking at the body on the table and then at me. I had no idea who the rude boy was or what was ready, but had a feeling it couldn’t be anything good at this late hour. Uncle rubbed his chin. After what felt like an eternity, he addressed me with a calculating stare. “Are you capable of closing the cadaver up on your own?”

I stood taller, and thrust my chin up. “Of course.”

It was truly absurd that Uncle would think me incapable of such an easy thing, especially after I’d been fishing around inside the dead man’s viscera well enough on my own. Out of all my tasks this would be the easiest.

“Aunt Amelia says my needlework is quite impressive,” I added. Except she didn’t have skin stitching in mind while praising my embroidery, I’m sure. “Anyway, I practiced suturing on a boar’s carcass over the summer and had no trouble forcing the needles in and out of its derma. This won’t be any different.”

The dark figure chuckled, a damnably pleasant sound. I kept my expression calm, though I was quietly seething underneath. There wasn’t anything funny about that statement. Whether stitching skin or linen, the craft was what counted, not the medium.

“Very well.” Uncle slipped a black overcoat on and removed something I couldn’t quite see from a box near his desk. “You may close the body up. Be sure to lock the basement on your way out.”

The young man disappeared up the stairs without a backward glance, and I was happy to see him go. Uncle paused at the door, his scarred fingers tapping a nervous beat against the frame.

“My carriage will take you home when you’re through,” he said. “Leave the other specimens for tomorrow afternoon.”

“Uncle, wait!” I ran around the examination table. “What of school tomorrow? You said you’d let me know tonight.”

His attention flicked to the gutted cadaver on the table, then back into my expectant face. I could see his mind strategizing and coming up with a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t attend his forensic medicines class.

Propriety being the least of his worries.

Father would tear him from limb to limb if he discovered my apprenticeship.

Uncle Jonathan sighed. “You’re to come dressed as a boy. And if you so much as utter one word, it will be your first and last time in my classroom. Understand?”

I nodded vigorously. “I promise. I’ll be as silent as the dead.”

“Ah,” Uncle said, putting a hat on and tugging it low, “the dead speak to those who listen. Be quieter than even them.”

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