The following review appeared in edition 160 of Ripperologist magazine.
JACK THE RIPPER SUSPECTS: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE AND ENCYCLOPEDIA
PAUL WILLIAMSToronto, Canada: R.J. Parker Publishing and VP Publications, 2018 www.RJParkerPublishing.com softcover & ebook 324pp; notes and sources ISBN:1986324699 softcover £11.35 & ebook £4.15
Ripper books over the past year or so have been pretty dire or derivative and sometimes both, so I’m not making a difficult prediction when I say that we’re unlikely to see a book about Jack the Ripper in 2018 that’s better than this one. It’s far from error free, but it’s definitely a title you are going to want to have on your Ripper bookshelf.
The alphabetical list of 333 suspects runs from Inspector Abberline (yes, Abberline. You might recall that he was advanced back in 2007 by Jose Louis Abad, but not on any evidence worth the name; Abad is supposed to have aired his suspicions in a book published in Spain, but Williams doesn’t name it and I’ve never located it, so I assume it never made it from Abad’s mind into the real world) to Manual Cruz Xavier, one of the Portuguese cattlemen suggested by Edward Knight Larkin in 1889; thankfully, for otherwise we’d be lacking a “Z” suspect. As is clear, not all of these 333 suspects come anywhere close to being real suspects, and the list also includes a good many drunks and lunatics who turned up at police stations to confess or otherwise attracted attention by behaving oddly.
The book begins with a brief introduction intriguingly stating that among the suspects we’ll meet “the publican who painted his dog, the first woman sentenced to the electric chair, the writer of The Red Flag, the man with a thousand convictions, Britain’s oldest Prime Minister, and many others.” We do, too. Then there are two chapters taking a detailed look at the murders and the evidence. The suspects aren’t listed alphabetically, as one might have expected, but by when or where suspicions against them were first aired, or the type of suspects they are. Suspects are therefore categorised by “At the Scene”, “Arrested on Suspicion”, “Accused during the Terror”, “Mad Confessions”, and so on through to “Lunatics”, “Women”, “Doctors and Surgeons”, and so on.
Williams discusses the case against the suspects in as many or as few words as they deserve, and is succinct, giving only as much detail as you need to understand the arguments for and against – although Williams avoids personal comments and observations as far as is possible; he says that Patricia Cornwell believes Walter Sickert had a penile fistula, but doesn’t comment on the disputed probability that he did or not. This detached, straight-down-the-middle style is highly commendable and enviable.
However, what’s most valuable about this book – what makes it such a must-have title - are the footnotes. All 1,389 of them. Williams sources pretty much everything, albeit often to secondary sources such as Jack the Ripper books and websites, but this makes tracking back information easy and useful. For example, I’d remembered that Abad chap’s accusation against Abberline, and I knew I didn’t have his Spanish language book, but I couldn’t recall where I’d read of his theory. Williams gave the source, The Sun.
We should not underestimate the task of looking at over 300 suspects. You can’t be an expert or have read everything there is on all of them, and I think Paul Williams has done a remarkable job on his own. As with every Ripper book – and you may not believe this, but even with mine - there are inevitably a few issues here and there. In this case some errors have crept in and there are some sources given that may or may not refer to the suspect, but to someone like named. Williams generally identifies these, although not always as clearly as one might like. Purists are probably glad they’re there, but on reflection Williams might have been better off omitting them in case they misled the unwary.
I do have one big criticism of Williams’ book, there’s no index, which is extremely annoying given that without one the suspects are almost impossible to find. I’d have had a huge problem finding the reference to Abad, for example. The lack of an index means the ebook, easily and quickly searchable, is a better choice than the softcover, but if you find pleasure in casting your eye along your Ripper books lined neatly on your shelf, the lack of an index may force you into purchasing both the softcover edition as well as the ebook!
I’ve never heard of R.J. Parker Publishing, whose website suggests they’re a quirky and small Canadian or American outfit specialising in true crime. Frankly, I’m surprised that Paul Williams’s book wasn’t offered to a big or biggish mainstream publisher, who I’d have thought would have snapped it up. This is the first edition and hopefully corrections and additions can be made, in which case this could be a truly invaluable reference book.
Review by Paul Begg