Pocket Essentials is a series of very useful guides to a variety of subjects, and the newly revised and updated Mark Whitehead and Miriam Rivett’s guide to Jack the Ripper is no exception. I didn’t see the original edition of the guide, but this version coves a vast subject pithily and well.
A great deal of nonsense has been talked and written by a great many people about Jack the Ripper for over a century now. The speculation about the real identity of the serial killer has ranged from the plausible to the potty. Anyone who was anyone in late Victorian society seems to have been linked to the case at one time or another.
In a well-written introduction, the authors give their perspective on the case, in measured and readable fashion. They are surely right to point out that the real fascination with the case is that people want to know why anyone would wish to commit such terrible crimes. We can, and I think should, dismiss those who simply want to salivate over the not-for-the-squeamish details of what the Ripper did to his victims. But his motive remains a source of unending debate.
The authors summarise the crimes, and provide a good concise overview of the main suspects who have been identified over the years, as well as highlighting films and books based on the case, and sources of further information. They are clearly sceptical about Patricia Cornwell’s theory that Walter Sickert was the Ripper, as I am. And they are sceptical, too, about the diary in which James Maybrick purported to be the Ripper. So am I – but I’d add that if the diary is a hoax, it was, however tasteless, a brilliantly conceived hoax.