Maxim Jakubowski & |
Nathan Braund, editors,
The Mammoth Book
of Jack the Ripper
(Carroll & Graf, 1999)
This is an excellent introduction to Ripperology for the uninitiated; likewise, it is very useful for someone, like myself, who has read about Jack the Ripper fairly extensively in the past and just needed a good brush-up before taking up the mantle of amateur detective again. Don't worry -- I'm not going to name a suspect here in this review (partly because I certainly do not know the true identity of Jack the Ripper). I leave the theorizing to the writers who contributed to this book.
These contributors come from different walks of life, and their proffered theories range from the ludicrous to the seemingly substantive. Thankfully, no chapters are given to Stephen Knight's wild "royal conspiracy," although it is mentioned on occasion for the purpose of repeating how ridiculous such ideas are. The subject of the Maybrick diary is broached, with a good balance of positive and negative reactions to it (personally, I think it is a fake). There is one chapter that did annoy me somewhat, even though I can understand the point of it. Basically, and I won't identify him here, the contributor argues that X was the Ripper, presents evidence (circumstantial, of course, which is really the best that any theorist can offer in this case) of why this person was the Ripper, then ends the section with a Gotcha! See how easy it is to build a case around any "suspect," he says -- while that is a valid point, anyone who has read anything about this case knows the fragility and circumstantial nature of virtually every piece of evidence extant in the field, and I for one would not have chosen to waste my time reading a chapter that, in the end, was essentially nonsense.
The first section of the book, I should point out, consists of a very useful timeline and summation of the events and evidence, what the editors call the "undisputed facts." While no single piece of evidence is truly "undisputed" among Ripperologists, this section does provide an objective look at the subject matter. It is followed by sections specifically addressing the witness statements (many of which are, of course, contradictory and/or unreliable, which the editors point out), autopsy reports, the controversial "Ripper letters," police views and disputed texts. Anyone who reads through that introductory session will have a useful foundation of knowledge to draw upon when interpreting the competing theories that make up the bulk of the book. That being said, any reader would really benefit from having another source of an encyclopedic nature handy (and there are such books out there) because it can be confusing to keep all of the names straight when there are so many suspects that the contributors ask us to consider.
All in all, this is an excellent source of information on Jack the Ripper. The background information provided by the editors is quite objective and fact-oriented, which is a rare find in books on this subject. In most cases, someone decides who the Ripper surely was and then goes about finding "facts" to fit his or her theory. That is certainly what some of the contributors to this book have done. The editors, commendably, have not done that; they do not even offer any "views" on the individual theories presented here. Their "just the facts, ma'am" approach is much appreciated and welcome. While this is not the "best" book on the subject, it may well be the best introduction available to the history and myth of the Whitechapel murderer.