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Jack the Ripper - Terry Lynch

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Genre: Horror / Author: Terry Lynch / Paperback / 384 Pages / Book is published 2008-04-24 by Wordsworth

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      20.11.2008 09:53
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      A decent budget book on Jack the Ripper

      This is a fairly recent book about Jack the Ripper published by Wordsworth as part of their 'Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural' line. It's the first time I've seen a book published by Wordsworth that isn't a reprint - their specialty is in publishing cheap editions of the classics (very useful for literature students!). Their 'Tales of Mystery etc' series is a great resource for old ghost stories, and something I'm very fond of. But I'm not entirely sure why they decided to publish a new book about Jack the Ripper - it might have been more valuable to reprint one of the very early - and now extremely rare - books on the subject.

      Terry Lynch, the author, isn't a name I'm familiar with, but then I've not really read much Jack the Ripper stuff recently. You reach a point where you know all that you can really usefully know. Alarm bells were set off in my head by the very first line of the book: 'This manuscript unquestionably represents the strongest and most comprehensive book ever written on the subject of Jack the Ripper.' Uh oh. I seem to recall Patricia Cornwell making a very similar claim in her Ripper book, and look how that turned out.

      Of course, it isn't anything like the most comprehensive book on the subject. It's very light, for instance, on the social circumstances of Whitechapel during the era, and it largely ignores press coverage of the crimes. This is a pity, as these are the more interesting aspects of the case, and really provide justification for our continued fascination with squalid sex crimes. There's little here about possible wider meanings of the Ripper case, either for Victorian society or modern society.

      The book describes the crimes in some detail. Lynch attributes five murders to the Ripper (not quite the 'canonical' five, he swaps Martha Tabram for Liz Stride), but he describes various other crimes that have occasionally been blamed on the Ripper. He examines suspects and theories, includes quite a long chapter about the Ripper letters; talks about the police investigation; and at the end makes some suggestions about who the Ripper actually might have been.

      Most of this is fairly sensible. There are occasionally factual errors (the Cleveland Street Scandal took place after the murders, not before them), but as a book for a beginner this passes muster. Lynch sometimes makes the classic Ripperology error of making assumptions about how people *might* have behaved, and then presenting that assumption as proof of something (for instance - and I'm paraphrasing here - according to Lynch, the killer wouldn't have picked up women in a pub because that would have drawn attention to himself, so therefore no-one seen drinking with a victim in a pub can possibly be a suspect). But on the whole he's pretty honest about what is known fact and what isn't.

      He makes some particularly wild assumptions about the police, choosing to criticise them for failing to catch the killer and telling them what they should have done (very easy to do from our standpoint 120 years on). He also takes one particular letter (a strange bit of doggerel verse) very seriously, perhaps because it's never really been discussed before - I guess every Ripper author needs to feel that they've brought something new to the absurdly crowded table.

      His discussion of the suspects isn't as comprehensive as I'd like. He doesn't even mention my own favourite candidate, Roslyn D'Onston, and he's also curiously silent on the subject of Walter Sickert, Patricia Cornwell's unlikely suspect. He describes some of the silly royal/freemasonic theories, but doesn't really do them justice (they're rubbish, but they're entertaining rubbish. He doesn't even mention the secret room at Glamis Castle!). He may also not be aware that one of the candidates he discusses, Dr Stanley, is fictional. At least he doesn't believe the diary is real.

      In the end he proposes four possible candidates, two of whom are already popular suspects, one who will surprise anyone with a knowledge of the case, and one who I don't think has been suggested before (although that's slightly surprising; he does seem like an obvious person to at least look twice at). Of course, there's no real evidence to link any of the suspects with the crimes, otherwise the mystery would have been wrapped up years ago, and Lynch is perfectly honest about this. Apart from the book's introduction, he doesn't lapse into the kind of hyperbole you get from a lot of Ripper authors. All in all, this is a sensible book in a lot of its conclusions.

      Lynch keeps italicising sentences that he thinks are particularly relevant, which I found rather annoying, and he does tend to repeat himself a lot. But then he also tends to throw fact after fact at the reader without any attempt at tying it all together, often going off into lengthy digressions that would have fit better elsewhere. The book veers between treating us as if we're a bit thick, and over-complicating things. His prose style is slightly unwieldy (describing the mutilations of the victims as 'erudite' struck me as particularly weird), but that's probably down to poor (or perhaps non-existent) editing. Apart from the odd factual error, the book also refers us to a map that doesn't seem to exist. This really could have done with a proof-reader.

      There are a number of photographs reprinted in the book - photos of the victims, of some suspects, of some police officers. These are of terrible quality, and look like they've been sourced from low-resolution jpegs, probably taken from a website. The front cover is particularly baffling, showing six murder victims, none of whom were actually victims of the Ripper (at least according to Lynch); along with a silhouette of a man in a top hat wielding a scalpel (the Ripper probably didn't wear a top hat, and certainly didn't use a scalpel). Two of the victims shown on the cover aren't even mentioned in the book; I wonder if the designer had actually read it.

      But I don't want to seem too critical. Most of what you'll find here can be found elsewhere, but for the price it's not a bad introduction to the case. It's not the best-written book I've ever read, but it's not the worst either. Lynch seems to have come to the case with a completely open mind, and many of his conclusions seem reasonable. He promises to continue his investigations, and the best of luck to him. This certainly doesn't live up to the claims the author makes for it in the introduction, but there are much, much worse Ripper books out there.

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