Time travel, mystery, and adventure combine in Peter B. Dunfield’s JACK THROUGH TIME, a middle-grade narrative that sees main character Avie help track down the infamous Jack the Ripper on the foggy streets of Victorian Whitechapel. At her home in Vancouver, British Columbia, present-day Avie is innocently enjoying her latest book, Mysteries and Enigmas Solved: True Case Files of Wembley Oliver (W.O.) Dahs. But the twelve-year-old becomes more involved in one of the mysteries than she could ever have imagined and finds herself wrenched back through time to London of 1888, where a murderer stalks the streets, brutally killing the town’s women.
Dunfield creates an atmospheric setting from the start, evoking the “crypt-like silence” and the “thick shroud of smoky fog”. Before long, his time-traveling protagonist narrowly escapes a spell in a workhouse and undergoes tricky exchanges with some unsavory characters. The tension is compounded when Avie witnesses the murderer at work. She notes the “disembodied scream” that strikes terror in her soul. Without assistance, however, Avie has no chance of exposing the high-profile killer and seeing him brought to justice. But help is at hand, in the form of recently-promoted Sergeant Charlie O’Malley, and the renowned Wembley Oliver Dah, hero of her reading book. Dah takes Avie under his wing, allowing her to stay at his home under the guise of his niece. Here, Avie soon forms a bond with “Aunt Beatrice” and quickly becomes Dah’s trusted sidekick. Together, they repeatedly expose themselves to danger in their quest to apprehend the killer, despite huge obstacles: a murderer whose wealth and status afford him protection from suspicion, and a police force that judges the two sleuths as “busy-bodies meddling in police business”. The narrative is strewn with mini cliffhangers and quickly becomes a real page-turner.
Despite its status as YA fiction, JACK THROUGH TIME is a novel that will easily appeals to adults too. Fans of detective fiction and mysteries will find all the reassuring tropes of these genres. And the time-travel aspect, which could easily be off-putting for some, does not dominate; conversely, it provides a vehicle for driving the plot forward. The characters, though not immediately fully rounded, gradually get under the skin – as the story progresses, one wills them on and hopes for their safety. Minor issues include some anachronistic language: for example, it doesn’t seem likely that a nineteenth-century British police official would use a term like “lollygagging”. But this in no way hinders enjoyment of the tale. By the end, the prospect of a sequel is a very appealing one.
Peter B Dunfield’s JACK THROUGH TIME is a highly enjoyable romp that provides perfect escapism for fans of crime and mystery stories – whatever their age.
~Amanda Ellison for IndieReader