Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star is a highly entertaining page turner. This is the first book I’ve read by Johnson, and now I get why her fans adore her. I read it in one sitting on a cold and rainy day on a large overstuffed chair in a stranger’s home, which is quite possibly the very best way to read chillers, if not the most social way to spend an afternoon.
Set in present day London, Rory flies from her swamp town in Louisiana to London on the very day a gruesome murder has the whole city whispering about a Jack the Ripper copycat. The news doesn’t phase her much. After all, she’s busy unpacking and preparing for her senior year of high school at a boarding school in Wexford – Jack’s old haunting grounds.
Still, the eery similarities of the murder sends the media into a frenzy, and soon most of Rory’s classmates would rather talk of death than go to class. Then a second more gruesome murder occurs, and getting homework done is a distant memory. Amidst the frenzy, Rory develops a slight crush on her roommate’s friend Jerome. When he invites them both to the boy’s dormitory roof to lookout for the New Ripper on the night he’s supposed to strike again, she sneaks over without hesitation. This scene gave me that classic horror movie urge to shout at the screen for doing exactly what always gets them killed.
Later that night she looks out her bedroom window and takes in the city thinking:
This, I realized, is what I came for. This night. These people. This feeling buzzing through the air. – Rory
Never mind that the feeling in the air is terror, and that no one else seems to see or hear the strange man she has a habit of crossing paths with. But after the fourth copycat murder, it’s clear Rory knows more about this New Ripper than the cops and Ripper “experts” that descend on the city. Though London has cameras on nearly every corner, the culprit has somehow evaded getting caught on tape.
When fear finally kicks in, Rory is comforted by another roommate:
Fear can’t hurt you. When it washes over you, give it no power. It’s a snake with no venom. Remember that. That knowledge can save you. – Boo
Things are always scarier when they’re unseen, and that holds here. My attention dipped at the climax, but then it spiked by the next scene. Labeled Book 1 of Shades of London, this is the first in what I hope will be a long long series.
You can totally judge this book by its gorgeous cover. Johnson gives us a peak at the murderer’s point of view so you see this tale unfold from both perspectives, the haunter and the haunted. It’s atmospheric, scary and perfectly paced. Somehow she sustains tension on every single page, and for that I hate her.