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Interest in Jack the Ripper inspires California writer's novel

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Carla Anderton of California, Pa., released her first novel, 'The Heart Absent,' in April, 2013.
Here is the cover of Carla Anderton's first novel, 'The Heart Absent.' The California, Pa., writer released the book in April, 2013.

A long-time fascination with the infamous Jack the Ripper inspired a local author to write an historical thriller about the unidentified serial killer and his obsessive love relationships.

The novel, “The Heart Absent,” by Carla Anderton of California, Pa., was published by New Libri Press and released in April. Set in the mid to late 19th century London, “Anderton said the story is about Jack the Ripper in love.

“It is a cautionary tale about the dire consequences of obsession,” said the author and freelance writer.

Anderton is an amateur “ripperologist” who has researched, lectured and written papers about the notorious killer.

“I've always been a huge British history buff and since I was a little girl my big thing has been reading about the lives of the royals,” said Anderton, an adjunct English professor at Westmoreland County Community College.

In 1995, she took part in a Jack the Ripper walking tour in London as part of an advanced placement English class.

“We toured the different sites where the murders took place and talked about each of the individual murders, and the guide decided - for whatever reason - to use me as the model to show where the victims were cut,” said Anderton. “As disturbing and creepy as it was at the time, it really sparked my interest in Jack the Ripper.”

Anderton started the horror and romance book in Alan Natali's advanced writing classes while at student at California University of Pennsylvania in 2003.

She finished the novel as part of the requirements for a master of fine arts degree at Seton Hill University, Greensburg.

According to Anderton, a claim by crime novelist Patricia Cornwell to have solved the identity of Jack the Ripper in 2002 gave renewed fervor to her writings even though she disputed Cornwell‘s theory.

The book jacket to “The Heart Absent” reads: “Fourteen-year-old James Nemo spent most of his youth motherless and under the thumb of a father who hates him.

These injustices he quickly forgets, however, in the arms of a beautiful young prostitute named Nelly. Reality conspires against the young lovers, and James is left, alone and angry, to confront the truth behind his mother's abandonment.

Twenty years pass. James, now a respected artist, meets an Irish prostitute, Mary Jane Kelly, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Nelly. Convinced his redemption lies in her, James slowly ensnares her into his ever darkening world. His passion for her escalates into a frenzy, amidst the backdrop of Victorian London and threatens to consume them both.”

In reality, Mary Kelly is the fifth victim of Jack the Ripper.

Anderton said the novel reveals the consequences of women who depend on men for happiness and to take care of them just as the victims of Jack the Ripper who depended on the promises of paying strangers.

“I don't think these women in London became prostitutes because they were immoral people but because it was a very standard occupation for women at that time. I wanted to caution women of the horrible consequences this brings,” she said.

Anderton said her novel is directed to a literary audience that appreciates a good story and to people who are interested in Jack the Ripper.

“Everybody knows what happens to the victims of Jack the Ripper, but I think readers will be surprised at how through the fictional events that I've created play out in the midst of the more factual events that everybody is aware of,” said Anderton. “Everybody knows that the women die, this is an historical fact, but what happens immediately preceding and immediately after is an area of great speculation.”

Asked about a possible second novel, Anderton said perhaps. “Maybe something to do with British history, possibly something about Henry VIII or the Tudor Dynasty,” she said.

Anderton is board president of the Jozart Center for the Arts in California, where she gave a public reading from the book on May 11.

“The Heart Absent” is currently available in ebook fashion at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobu booksellers. Anderton expects the print version to be available this summer.

Colleen Pollock is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.