Monday, June 06, 2005

Jack the Ripper: The Facts by Paul Begg

I grabbed this book with some of my Christmas money, having thumbed it through and found the concept of a book that presents the facts, as opposed to theories, quite appealing.

The book is divided into chapters dealing with each of the murder victims, the people behind the investigation, prominent developements, suspects, and the state London was in at the time. This made it quite easy to dip in and out, and skip the parts that didn't hold my interest. Sections devoted to detailing the lives of suspects who appear to have no motivation or inclination to commit the murders, for instance. I do not believe a petty thief who never even assaulted the officers arresting him had much to do with the Whitechapel murders.

Begg has an easy writing style, although on occasions I dearly wanted to take a red pen to the book and fix up all his instances of information repetition, especially those occuring within a single paragraph. He also has a tendency to get bogged down in the tiny nitty gritty details, which most of the time involved a difference in information between two newspapers. As I do not believe the papers were privy to most of the details in the case, and were often in the habit of making stories up, I found such attention to be more than I was willing to invest.

There are several pages of old black and white photographs, from the victims to the 'Dear Boss' letter, all of which are fascinating and some of which are unsettling. Most of the victims are photographed post-mortem, and the pictures of the scene of Mary Kelly's death are graphic, to say the least. I didn't dwell on them long.

Although I find Jack the Ripper morbidly fascinating, I have no urge to read widely on the subject. Having read this book, written by someone who was not trying to solve the mystery, I've reached the conclusion that no one was at all close to discovering the murderer's identity.

Which is how I wish it to stay.

Jack the Ripper isn't just a murderer anymore; he's become a cultural figure. Even as the murders were being committed, the media stopped treating him as a human, and painted him as a monster, calling him 'ghoulish', 'fiend' and 'demon'. He's moved into the realm of legends, at to attempt to solve the case would be to steal away all the mystery. It no longer matters who did it, only that he changed the world.

Verdict: a good informative read. Worth digging up if you want to learn more on the subject.

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