The best thing I can find to say about this book is that it’s not as bad as the poem that begins it:
It began in the autumn,
Scotland Yard and Whitechapel
Were in such a state.
Five drunken “unfortunates”
Jack sent to hell
Without even so much as
Got it? (I think you do.) Now with that sing-songy little ballad about the murder of five women rating an F-, the D-level predictable, melodramatic, hackneyed goings-on in the book itself were almost a relief. Caitlynn O’Connor is a very good Irish lass. The darlin’ girl has come to London and taken a position in the household of a handsome Irish doctor – the same doctor for whom her cousin was working when she mysteriously disappeared some months earlier. Working undercover (nobody knows of her relation to the missing Deirdre) she intends to find out just what happened to her cousin. Missing cousins are bad enough, but when you arrive during Jack the Ripper’s murderous killing spree, the Gothic possibilities are rife indeed.
Dr. Donovan Fitzgerald is a very good Irish lad. And, in case you couldn’t figure that out on your own, he tells a Harley Street doctor who wonders why he doesn’t join him in private practice: “My patients need me, Sir Charles. That they do gives me great personal satisfaction. With all due respect, sir, that’s more important to me than being wealthy.” Got it? (I think you do.)
So with Dr. Fitzgerald busy selflessly treating the poor of the East End, Caitlynn spends her time catering to the needs of his sweet (or is she, really?) frail ward, looking for clues to Deirdre’s disappearance, and running up against the oh-so-very-mean not-Irish housekeeper. And, in case you couldn’t figure out on your own that she is one unpleasant old biddy, said housekeeper tells Caitlynn her very first hour in the home: “… it would be a pity if your… obstinacy caused you to be let go so soon after your arrival, would it not?”
And though Caitlynn is sweet and oh-so-good-natured she’s also feisty in the most annoying, formulaic way. She stands up to the seemingly cold doctor who initially tells her not to allow his ward to become emotionally attached to her in the finest Dr. Phil fashion. But Caitlynn and the doctor are soon enough enthusiastically rounding third base and, of course, before long our heroine finds herself the target of a menacing killer – a killer who could be Jack the Ripper.
Okay, on the positive side, I’ve done quite a bit of reading on the Ripper murders and Neri doesn’t make any obvious blunders in relating the details of the actual crimes or life in the East End of London in 1888. Equally, her prose isn’t clunky – her plotting is, but not her actual writing. Her plot is so predictable that you’ll likely figure out exactly what’s going to happen by the time you’ve finished the first several chapters. And in the “mysterious inconsistencies” department, readers may wonder why Caitlynn sometimes speaks in classic romance novel Irish dialect and sometimes she doesn’t.
Unless you’ve got an endless tolerance for virtually any Gothic romance, I don’t recommend Obsession. And one more word about that poem. If Spinal Tap ever managed to finish that musical about the Ripper that they mused about so fondly in that classic film, it might possibly have been more tasteless than Neri’s poem, but without competition from the formidable Tap, Neri’s got that ‘honor hands down.