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FIVE Books about The Ripper

Guest Post - Clare Whitfield

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I never set out to write a book about Jack the Ripper. The idea for the story, a woman who thinks she has married the Ripper, came from an exercise during a creative writing workshop. It received a great reaction from the class but I didn’t think much about it at the time. I wasn’t sure about venturing into Ripper territory because it was such a well-known subject and as a debut author, did I really want to take that on? But the idea continued to haunt and harass me, much in the same way the spectre of Jack the Ripper has loomed over us for well over 100 years despite being surpassed in both violence and numbers by many murderers since. Jack wasn’t the first murderer of his kind but his impact, his brand if you will, gave birth to the modern concept of the serial killer as we know it.

It’s widely known and accepted that the Ripper brutally murdered five vulnerable women over the course of a few months in 1888 in the East End of London, and then stopped. The fact the perpetrator was never identified only adds to the enduring enigma. Jack’s spree ended with the mutilation murder of Mary Kelly in her dingy single room. There have been many theories around what could have happened after this point, from prison for another crime, to emigration and suicide. Fascination with an unseen monster never subsides, only continues to fester in the imagination, taking on the form of each person’s particular fears. The speculation has prompted a million books so I’ve picked out five that I think have the most compelling and unique concepts.

Gyles Brandreth – Oscar Wilde and the Return of Jack the Ripper

When it appears that Jack the Ripper has returned to create more mayhem, Chief Constable Macnaghten recruits Oscar Wilde to help him. Wilde teams up with Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) and together they begin to study the old murders, eliminating suspects as they go, while at the same time Wilde’s personal life threatens to ruin him. This novel takes the reader on a tour through the maze of the sleazy London Underground with all sorts of shady characters and goings on.

Maureen Johnson – The Name of the Star

A Ripper book with an edgy contemporary take—American teen, Rory Deveaux, is sent to a boarding school in London while her parents must work miles away in another city. Rory soon learns that there is a murderer attempting to recreate the Jack the Ripper murders and as more killings occur in her local vicinity, she even manages to come across the suspect herself. Rory has to work with a shadowy organisation to help catch him, but it's not a simple police investigation. An inventive premise aimed at a younger reader with elements of the paranormal.

Author bio: Clare Whitfield is a UK-based writer living in a suburb where the main cultural landmark is a home store/Starbucks combo. She is the wife of a tattoo artist, mother of a small benign dictator and relies on a black Labrador for emotional stability. She has been a dancer, copywriter, amateur fire breather, buyer, and mediocre weight lifter.

Read People of Abandoned Character (2021)

Donald Rumbelow – Jack the Ripper: The Complete Casebook

This book was my first go-to nonfiction for not only detailing the murders and the police investigation, but taking a wider view and giving context to the social economic landscape, politics, role of the media, police and public attitude of the time. Donald Rumbelow lectures on crime and London history and is a former chairman of the Crime Writers Association. He even used to work for a Jack the Ripper tour company and I booked a tour in the hope of meeting him—alas for me he was unwell at the time. I recommend this book for those interested in understanding the wider context of the murders with brilliant evidence and detail, as well as giving voice to many of the more common theories and considered suspects.

Hallie Rubenhold – The Five

The Five is an investigation into each of the canonical victims attributed to Jack the Ripper, a mini biography of each woman, if you will. While the basic details of their lives have featured in many books about the murders, few really attempt to understand who each of the women were—most remarkably this book identifies that some of them had no previous convictions for prostitution at all. Destitute and hopeless they may have been, miserable and abandoned and lost—but they were people and humans just the same. Many of them had families and respected professions at some points in their history. It’s a fascinating insight to the lives of ordinary working-class women in London at the time—the kind that don’t often get featured in books, and at turns its most poignant.

Sarah Pinborough – Mayhem

At the same time as the Ripper was causing havoc in the dark streets of gaslit London, there was another murderer at large and this fiction novel is based on the lesser-known Torso murders that occurred from 1887-1889. The main character, Dr Bond, is an opium addict who must team up with a priest to hunt down the evil killer. It’s an audacious take on a historical mystery with a paranormal slant.