Thursday, 28 May 2009
The Complete History of Jack the Ripper
The Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Philip Sugden
· Paperback: 544 pages
· Publisher: Robinson Publishing; 2Rev Ed edition (21 Feb 2002)
· Language English
· ISBN-10: 1841193976
· ISBN-13: 978-1841193977
Is there anything new to say about Jack the Ripper and the infamous 1888 Whitechapel Murders? Well, yes, there is, and Philip Sugden has said it. Most Ripper books suffer from two principle weaknesses: first, they set out to make a case for a favoured and predetermined suspect, and second, they exist in a close, almost incestuous relationship one with the other. That is to say that they are secondary works based on secondary works, which means that when errors appear they are rarely questioned, repeated to the point where fiction becomes fact and legend truth.
Sugden is having none of this. He is an historian with the instincts of an historian. He is also, it might be said, a superb detective, sifting through the evidence in a careful and forensic manner. He takes nothing for granted, plowing through the mythology perpetuated by others and taking the source material as his point of departure. He sifts carefully through contemporary police reports and other primary documents, building up his case piece by piece. His arguments proceed on this basis and are mustered with considerable care.
The other virtue of this book, at least so far as I am concerned, is that the author manages to humanise the victims, people who in most other accounts are depicted in lurid detail or merely as passing shadows. He makes one sympathise even with these poor and wretched girls. Above all he brings to life a London of long ago and the desperation of so many lives in the impoverished east-end of the city.
Altogether it is a thorough, well-written and exhaustive account of the murders and the circumstances surrounding the murders rather than just another piece of vacuous speculation. Those coming to the subject for the first time will obtain no better guide. Even seasoned ‘Ripperologists’ are likely to uncover one or two surprises.
In the end there is no definite conclusion because the evidence will simply not allow such closure. It is a mystery that will remain a mystery but one can only hope that Sugden’s magisterial work will help arrest the wilder flights of fancy. If you like good history, if you like a good detective story or if you simply like a good read this book is most definitely for you.