Philip Sugden, |
The Complete History of Jack the Ripper
(Carroll & Graf, 1994; revised, 2002)
Having read several books on Jack the Ripper, I can enthusiastically declare Philip Sugden's volume the best of the lot, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, this book is not about "Jack the Ripper" per se, but rather it is about the series of murders in Whitechapel and the ensuing investigation.
It is the author's stated goal to present the facts as clearly as can be gleaned from extant police files and press reports of the time (albeit, in the latter case, cautiously and only when information is not available in official form). Sugden is not trying to convince us that his own pet suspect is the Ripper. Whereas most Ripper books begin with a conclusion and are written with the arbitary purpose of convincing us that the author has identified the Ripper, this book actually saves the conclusion to the end. Even that conclusion, however, is not definitive.
The author does, in the end, tell us why a certain suspect seems to fit the facts better than other named suspects, but he clearly states that there is no definitive proof as to whether or not that suspect was Jack, and he by no means accuses the man of the crimes. In the same vein, Sugden does not attack other writers in the field. That being said, he does point out flaws and outright mistakes in others' thinking. Even this, it must be said, is done in a noble fashion.
Sugden is very determined to dispel a number of myths that have wrongly influenced Ripperology for many years, and his contribution toward this end is the most important contribution he makes. He goes to great lengths to not only point out false "facts" (such as the supposed pregnancy of Mary Kelly, for example, an idea that even Donald Rumbelow accepted when he wrote his Casebook) but to explain where these myths came from and why they were accepted by other writers.
Another wonderful thing about this book is Sugden's treatment of the victims. I must admit that I have always viewed the victims with some detachment -- this is surely a personal shortcoming on my part, but it is one that many people may share, especially given that the victims were prostitutes in Victorian London over a century ago. In the pages of this book, though, these poor women actually become real and "human." I feel as if I knew them now, to at least a small degree, and, besides feeling pity and compassion for them, I have discovered that I actually liked a couple of them (especially Annie Camp). These women were not just poor "prostitutes." Other writers have done a good job of explaining the wretched conditions in Whitechapel, but no one else has made that world and its occupants really come alive and real to me before. Sugden deserves much praise for putting so much effort into researching, learning and telling the true story of these women as comprehensively as possible.
In this book, you will find the most complete, objective story that can be told of the Whitechapel murders. "Facts" you have assumed were true will be brought to light and revealed to be myths. New information, particularly in regard to the victims, will be presented. You will not be shown Jack the Ripper, however. What do the facts tell us about Jack the Ripper? That is the question Sugden poses. He has some ideas, which he shares, but any "answers" to this mystery are ultimately left with the reader.
This book should be required reading for any person even remotely interested in Jack the Ripper. Sugden has written the sacred tome of Ripperology.