Jack the Ripper: Murder, Mystery and Intrigue in London's East End
Geoff Hamilton is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of
A specialist in popular accounts of prominent murder cases, Susan
McNicoll tackles here the infamous Ripper killings in late 19th-century
London. The book’s chapters are organized according to the killer’s
five likely victims (some argue that separate killers are responsible
for particular deaths). Included with the text are a map of the East
End, where the murders occurred, and a brief list of related reading.
This is a decent short introduction to the Jack the Ripper case.
McNicoll’s narrative is finely detailed and gripping, and she does a
fine job of explaining the cultural panic generated by the murders.
Particularly well-evoked are the squalid conditions in which these
crimes took place: “This was the London of horribly overcrowded slums,
where the populace lived in the worst conditions imaginable. Filth,
poverty and danger predominated, and struggling to survive was a
full-time occupation.” The book ends with the admonition that “there
was nothing romantic about Jack. He was a brutal, cold-blooded serial
killer who chose as his victims a group of poor women who were
struggling to survive in an environment that never gave them a chance.
He not only took their lives, but humiliated their bodies after death.
If anyone should be remembered, it is them.” This assessment is, to
some extent, at odds with the book’s implicit approach, which like
most treatments of the subject relies on the lurid appeal of the
killings for narrative interest. Moments of slippage reveal the extent
to which McNicoll herself is implicated in a grim fascination with the
killer, as when she remarks of a lull in the killings in October 1888:
“Jack the Ripper wasn’t finished, merely resting, and he was saving
his best for last.” The book concludes with an epilogue that briefly
addresses the likely suspects for the Ripper murders, while also
considering some of the recent investigative work done on the case.
McNicoll wisely concludes that the genuine identity of the killer will
likely never be confirmed.