HUNTING PRINCE DRACULA & ESCAPING FROM HOUDINI by Kerri Maniscalco are great books 2 and 3 of her historical fiction series, STALKING JACK THE RIPPER. While each story stands fantastically on their own, they also have a great overarching story arc between the two as Wadsworth and Cresswell first find themselves deep in the Romanian mountains to compete for spots in a forensic science school and later on a fantastical cruise across the Atlantic that holds a nefarious circus troupe. As both are read, there is a pattern of analyzing what is fact and what is fable — both in the mystery and Cressworth’s relationship.
This is my first compare/contrast spoiler review so it is a bit longer than previous posts but I’m excited to try this for something different. As always, however, spoilers for books 2 and 3 will start after the short summary during the extended review:
Summary of HUNTING PRINCE DRACULA:
Bizarre murders are discovered in the castle of Prince Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula. Could it be a copycat killer…or has the depraved prince been brought back to life?
Following the grief and horror of her discovery of Jack the Ripper’s true identity, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has no choice but to flee London and its memories. Together with the arrogant yet charming Thomas Cresswell, she journeys to the dark heart of Romania, home to one of Europe’s best schools of forensic medicine…and to another notorious killer, Vlad the Impaler, whose thirst for blood became legend.
But her life’s dream is soon tainted by blood-soaked discoveries in the halls of the school’s forbidding castle, and Audrey Rose is compelled to investigate the strangely familiar murders. What she finds brings all her terrifying fears to life once again.
Summary of ESCAPING FROM HOUDINI:
Embarking on a week-long voyage across the Atlantic on the opulent RMS Etruria, they’re delighted to discover a traveling troupe of circus performers, fortune tellers, and a certain charismatic young escape artist entertaining the first-class passengers nightly.
But then, privileged young women begin to go missing without explanation, and a series of brutal slayings shocks the entire ship. The disturbing influence of the Moonlight Carnival pervades the decks as the murders grow ever more freakish, with nowhere to escape except the unforgiving sea.
It’s up to Audrey Rose and Thomas to piece together the gruesome investigation as even more passengers die before reaching their destination. But with clues to the next victim pointing to someone she loves, can Audrey Rose unravel the mystery before the killer’s horrifying finale?
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Why I was interested: To say I was pleasantly surprised by the first in the series, STALKING JACK THE RIPPER, is an understatement. I really adored the story and looked forward to continuing the series. Both DRACULA and HOUDINI are excellent companions following the “monster of the week” continuation while the relationship between Wadsworth and Cresswell grows.
Side note: As noted in my spoiler review of RIPPER, I just received a finished copy of the last in Maniscalco’s series, CAPTURING THE DEVIL (Sept. 10, 2019). I am on my way to completing my #BingeingTheRipper series including Mansicalco’s novella, BECOMING THE DARK PRINCE, which follows Cresswell’s POV of HOUDINI. I purchased the first three books and the novella, but I am very thankful to Jimmy Patterson Presents and Little, Brown and Company for sending me the last of the series.
Judge a book by it’s cover: The red and white contrast of DRACULA is great as it reminds me of the blood — and sometimes the lack of it in found corpses — on the white Romanian snow. HOUDINI’s colors are also spectacular as it showcases both the performance motif that is consistent throughout the story.
What to expect: Without giving too much away with focusing on two separate books in one post, if you are a Cressworth fan then you will love both of these. Both focus on myth and murder, stories and seduction. They’re great stepping stones after RIPPER.
Why you should pick this book up: If you love podcasts like Lore or Serial or TV shows like NCIS or Law and Order, you will enjoy these books. Check out the first in the series, STALKING JACK THE RIPPER, where we meet Wadsworth and Cresswell as they first team up together in 1888 London and hunt down the famous Ripper murderer.
Want more?: If you have read RIPPER, check out my spoiler review of it here. After finishing books 1 through 3, Maniscalco has a novella deemed book 3.5 of the series called BECOMING THE DARK PRINCE where we learn of Cresswell’s POV of HOUDINI. Finally, the last of her series, CAPTURING THE DEVIL, will release on Sept. 10, and she does have a preorder campaign featuring a beautiful art piece by Gabriella Bujdosó.
ATTENTION: IF YOU HAVE YET TO READ HUNTING PRINCE DRACULA & ESCAPING FROM HOUDINI do not continue reading. The following contains spoilers for the books.
Going into DRACULA I understood that there would be references to myths and legends. However, when I started reading HOUDINI, I did not expect the smokescreen of what is real and created to be so interconnected, definitely more so than as seen in DRACULA to my surprise. Reading both back-to-back made me realize that they are more similar than different — especially when comparing the pair to RIPPER.
RIPPER’s story was more focused on the idea of feminism and I loved how in-depth this motif traveled. It was apparent in character motivations to Wadsworth’s thoughts to relationships and to, ultimately, the mystery plotline and climax. The idea of DRACULA was that there was something that we know is not possible — vampires, Vlad the Impaler rising from the dead, etc. — and trying to figure out what was really going on.
There is a line that severs the two contrasting ideas even while Audrey Rose is experiencing some PTSD/anxiety due to learning her brother was the Ripper, his motivation was to bring their mother back from the dead à la Frankenstein, and his shocking death (no pun intended). Because the audience and even Wadsworth and Cresswell understand that there is little chance Vlad the Impaler would come back from the dead — to Cresswell’s relief — and vampires existing, the book can be spooky but not unexpectedly so.
We even see this with Wadsworth and Cresswell’s relationship. Cresswell reveals he is Vlad’s direct descendant and is trying to understand how to both respect and “protect” Wadsworth because he really loves her and yet let her stand on her own two feet. Wadsworth is trying to balance her growing feelings and attraction for Cresswell while proving to the headmaster that even though she is a woman, she is quite capable of being a top-notch scientist. During the climax, Wadsworth admits how much she truly cares about Cresswell as Anastasia sets her bloody sights on him as well. Wadsworth grows from contemplating her feelings for Cresswell to admitting them.
HOUDINI, on the other hand, had much more of a blur space when it came to fact versus fable. The nefarious circus troupe and its ringmaster are more than what they seem and the audience, Wadsworth, and Cresswell are never sure when the story is a part of the act or fact. We see this as Wadsworth makes a daring promise with the handsome Mephisto where she must act like she is infatuated with him and not tell Cresswell in order to get closer to the troupe to discover the murderer.
While this turns Wadsworth and Mephisto’s relationship into something dark and sexy, it sadly impacts Wadsworth’s worthwhile relationship with Cresswell as well. As the story progresses, fact and fable start to blur with the mystery but also specifically with the romance. Wadsworth slowly loses Cresswell, and she’s unsure about her true feelings for Mephisto. With pressure of the case, playing a part to find the truth, and the expectations of marriage and family life looming over Wadsworth, it’s understandable how this dream cruise slowly turns into a week-long nightmare.
DRACULA and HOUDINI may both question what is real and fake in their stories, their mysteries, and with Cressworth’s relationship, but HOUDINI really takes the line drawn in DRACULA and erases it. Each story is a harder battle for Wadsworth to triumph over. This makes me fascinated to read how CAPTURING THE DEVIL will play out as we hope for the happily ever after Wadsworth and Cresswell truly need after a months of murder.
What did you think of Kerri Maniscalco’s HUNTING PRINCE DRACULA & ESCAPING FROM HOUDINI? Are you bingeing the Ripper series as well? I’d love to hear your comments below!
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