It might occur to you that the last thing needed now in the cluttered field of the culture surrounding the notorious London serial killer is another book. However, as part of the Applause series of FAQ releases that purport to be the definitive text on various subjects, Dave Thompson’s book attempts to cover the subject from every angle. Although it details the crimes and the subsequent investigations it also covers Jack’s appearances in popular culture and why, nearly 130 years later, the world of Whitechapel in 1988 and the terror unleashed still fascinates and endures.
Let’s start with a commendable choice Thompson makes. Throughout the history of Ripper texts, there has been an almost ghoulish glee with which photos of the victims of the murders, most frequently after their deaths from autopsies or even at murder sites, have been trotted out. Thompson states specifically his intention to remember that each of these women were victims not only of the faceless killer but also the world they knew, the decisions they were forced into and the way class, status and opportunity almost condemned them to their fates. He wants us to remember they were human beings, and it’s something the book does well, becoming as much about the women as it is the city they lived in, with Jack a necessarily peripheral figure.
There is, of course, a frequent description of the brutality and viciousness of the crimes, and others that may or may not have been the Ripper’s handiwork. It was hard, desolate times for anyone who ended up in Whitechapel and that comes through clearly. Thompson takes time to consider theories and evidence for the huge variety of suspects that have been put forward by police, amateur detectives and even the fakers along the years. He covers too the appearances of Jack in popular culture in films like Hitchcock’s The Lodger.
As to the value and accuracy of this book, well Thompson notes that every so-called 'Ripperologist' has their interpretations and preferences. Certainly, from the appendixes it seems here that Thompson has sought to rely on the information actually available and he rarely draws his own conclusions, instead, letting the words of autopsies and newspaper reports speak for themselves. Ultimately, as in Thompson’s own assessment there is hardly anything new to discover about the Ripper (except of course that most lingering of questions about final identity) and due to the sheer volume of theories and conjecture, this book is likely to appeal to those with a casual interest in the subject who want an all-in-one place text. In that, the book generally succeeds and should you have that casual interest, it’s an easy recommendation.
JACK THE RIPPER FAQ / AUTHOR: DAVE THOMPSON / PUBLISHER: APPLAUSE THEATRE BOOK PUBLISHERS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW