(2014) is Isabel Allende’s first controversial foray into genre fiction. In an interview, Allende claims that the thriller novel is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek joke or parody of the mystery genre—which she admits that she neither likes nor has read very much of, except a small selection of the more popular examples on the market. The mystery community of both readers and writers took umbrage to the perceived slight, sparking an online backlash. Stylistically, the novel seems to be a strange blend of mystery tropes and literary devices—the mystery is woven around character backstories and flashbacks, even though the dated chapter titles give a sense of linearity.
The story follows Amanda Martín, an MIT-bound high school student and her online gaming group, which includes her grandfather and four other damaged or traumatized kids from around the world. Amanda and her friends play a game called Ripper, which is about solving fictional crimes in nineteenth-century London, but when a series of interesting real-life murders begin presenting themselves in her hometown of San Francisco, they decide to try to solve them. The stakes get even higher when Amanda’s mom, Indiana, is kidnapped by a serial killer, and the clock is ticking while they race to save her.
The story begins with the line, “Mom is still alive, but she’s going to be murdered at midnight on Good Friday,” and then immediately jumps into a seemingly unrelated murder that introduces the Ripper game participants. It becomes the reason they begin investigating real crimes. The next few chapters are dedicated to introducing Allende’s large cast of characters who, in the manner of parody, are mostly stereotypes of genre characters: Indiana Jackson, a holistic healer and “a tall voluptuous blond American with the looks of an inflatable doll” whose beauty bewitches every man she meets; Amanda Martín, a genius who doesn’t know how beautiful she is; Ryan Miller, a former Navy SEAL and his service dog, Attila; Alan Keller, a wealthy libertine and Indiana’s longtime lover; Blake Jackson, Amanda’s grandfather, a pharmacist by trade and a mystery writer on the side; Matheus Peresia, a painter and one of Indiana’s lovers; Deputy Chief Bob Martín, Amanda’s father and Indiana’s ex-husband; and Carol Underwater, a patient at the holistic clinic.
In the meantime, a series of odd murders is stacking up: a security guard, a suburban couple, and a famous psychiatrist, all of them killed in odd ways. Away at boarding school during the week, Amanda keeps up with the murders by calling her grandfather—he interviews witnesses and she asks him questions, sending him back out into the field. She also finds an autopsy of the psychiatrist and shares it with her friends, with orders to consider the clues of the case and find motive, means, opportunity, suspects, and method. Meanwhile, Bob Martín interviews the last victim’s wife, a beautiful supermodel who makes no secret of the fact that she married for money, and that she inherits everything.
Meanwhile, there is evidence that something strange is happening around Indiana. First, she realizes that someone has been in her apartment. She is missing some underwear and her things have been moved around. Then she gets a gossip magazine in the mail about her longtime lover, Alan, and his relationship with another woman. She cannot shake the feeling that she is being stalked. Meanwhile, Amanda and her fellow gamers, still working on the murders, conclude that the three murders—although they seem disparate—are connected. Her parents worry about her obsession with crime, especially her detective father who consults a child psychologist. Shortly after, a judge becomes the fourth murder victim and the Ripper gamers are certain there’s a serial killer on the loose.
After a bar fight at a drag show, more of Ryan’s backstory is revealed. He and Attila had fought together in Afghanistan, and his unit had been part of a disastrous black ops mission wherein Ryan accidentally killed civilians. Afterward, his unit was transferred to Iraq. The memory of the village and what happened there still haunts him, and he confesses it all to Indiana. He and Indiana grow closer, especially since her relationship with Alan Keller dissolves because of Alan’s infidelity. Stripped of his fortune and deep in debt, the feckless Alan comes back around to ask Indiana to marry him; she asks for time to consider. Sensing a threat to his new relationship, Ryan pays Alan a visit to get him to back off. Shortly afterward, Alan Keller is discovered dead from a crossbow. Suspicion falls on Ryan and he goes on the run.
Despite the novel’s first line, Indiana is not kidnapped until nearly the end. In the denouement of the mystery, the police accept the Ripper gamers’ belief that the deaths are the work of a single serial killer they name the Wolf. Once Indiana disappears, the voice of the killer emerges in italicized sections as he confesses his crimes and motivations to his captive. The killer apologizes for inducing Indiana’s miscarriage—she had only just found out she was pregnant when Alan proposed to her, convincing her to marry him before the Wolf killed him. Running against time, the gamers realize that the killer is a man called Lee Galespi, who had been cross-dressing as Carol the whole time. He was also another of Indiana’s clients, Gary. The plot thickens when they realize that Lee and Carol and Gary were all covers; the killer’s real name is Anton Farkas (farkus means “wolf” in Hungarian). Amanda calls her father to tell him what they know.
Still on the run, Ryan has infiltrated the gamers with the online personality of Jezebel, his identity known only to Amanda and Blake. Once they work out where Indiana is being held, Ryan mounts a rescue, bringing Attila with him. He reaches Indiana, who has been tied to a cross in honor of Good Friday but is fatally wounded by the Wolf. Attila attacks Gary and rips out his throat. The police are only ten minutes behind, but they are too late to save Ryan.
The mystery over, the Ripper gamers play one more time and go their separate ways until the winter holidays. Indiana keeps Attila, Amanda goes to MIT, and Blake writes the whole tale as a novel called Ripper