Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

The Devil’s Nightmare

Kerri Maniscalco ends her Victorian murder mystery series at the Chicago World’s Fair

“The devil was a monster, but I would become his nightmare.” So vows Audrey Rose Wadsworth, the brilliant 17-year-old forensic scientist at the center of Capturing the Devil, the fourth and final young adult novel in Knoxville writer Kerri Maniscalco’s popular series of Victorian murder mysteries.

Photo: Kelli Maniscalco

It’s been a rough few months for Audrey Rose, who is still recovering from a trio of back-to-back adventures: chasing Jack the Ripper in London; surviving the curse of Dracula’s castle in Romania; and, most recently, solving a series of carnival-themed shipboard murders during a transatlantic voyage with Harry Houdini. In Capturing the Devil, Audrey Rose arrives in New York City, where she hopes to heal from a knife wound to her leg — suffered in the line of duty — while focusing on the much more pleasant business of her impending nuptials to her sweetheart and investigative partner, Thomas Cresswell.

This presents a challenge to Audrey Rose, who is much more at home with a scalpel and corpse than she is in the world of romantic relationships. In fact, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to darkness. Fresh off the ship, she leaves her hansom carriage for a walk through the meatpacking district of the city: “The scent of copper mixed with feces pricked my eyes and thrilled my heart,” she confesses. “This street was death made tangible, a murderer’s dream.”

Audrey Rose is a conflicted hero. The aspects of her character that draw her to gruesome crime scenes and enable her to perform autopsies on victims murdered in the most shocking ways — and do them without the revulsion expected from an aristocratic young woman of her day — also cause her to fear that there is something very wrong with her. Yet she is proud to be an advocate for those who are no longer able to seek justice for themselves, and she dreams of a world in which she is judged for her intellect alone and not held back by gender or her position in society.

From New York, she and Thomas head to Chicago, the site of the World’s Fair, where Audrey Rose is stunned at the freedom allowed her contemporaries. “Young women hurried along the streets, holding small leather cases, dressed smartly in long dark skirts,” she observes. “It hit me at once. They were alone. I blinked, completely and utterly taken with the notion of women traveling, without a chaperone, to work. I leaned on my cane, gaping. Surely this had to be a dream.”

She soon realizes that the same freedom she covets makes unaccompanied women easy targets in a big city, and she is dismayed that the authorities seem to have little interest in such victims and even less respect for their dignity. “I loathed that a woman might be brutalized by her killer and then again by the men investigating the crime,” she says. “It was an unfair world — one that showed no mercy for those who needed it the most.” As the numbers of missing young women begin to rise, she and Thomas are once again thrust into the desperate search for a madman.

Maniscalco paints a fascinating portrait of the Chicago World’s Fair and the “White City” famously created there, complete with innovations such as the brand-new snack, Cracker Jack; the first Ferris wheel; and Nikola Tesla’s breathtaking displays of electrical lighting. But the captivating sights prove the perfect camouflage for a monstrous threat stalking the unsuspecting city — a threat that only Audrey Rose and Thomas can bring to light. In Capturing the Devil, Kerri Maniscalco once again combines adventure, romance, murder, and Victorian manners into an intoxicating cocktail that brings the story of this tenacious young forensic scientist to a satisfying conclusion.

The Devil’s Nightmare

Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.