Jack the Ripper by Otto Penzler

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Jack the Ripper by Otto Penzler

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Category: Anthologies
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Erin Hull
Reviewed by Erin Hull
Summary: This book was fascinating and thought-provoking. Not a stone is left unturned in this vast exploration of all the horrors that Jack the Ripper committed. Penzler combines fiction with non-fiction to give a complete overview that answered any questions I had about the Ripper and had me asking new questions that I hadn't thought of before. At nearly a thousand pages it is a commitment, but there are so many different aspects to this book from many different writers that anyone would be able to find something interesting within it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 928 Date: November 2016
Publisher: Head of Zeus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1784976248

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The mystery of Jack the Ripper and the horror of his crimes have long been questioned and discussed within our culture. Despite the murders being committed over a century ago, the topic of his identity and the breadth of his crimes are still in question. So vast is the interest in Jack the Ripper that it has actually sparked an area of criminal and psychological study given its own specific name: Ripperology. For the first time this book had me ask why. Why are so many still absorbed in a series of unclear crimes committed by an unidentified man a hundred years ago? There are numerous cases of sick and horrendous murders committed by people in more modern times.

The book points out the universal disgust shown towards the Yorkshire Rippers in contrast to the fact that so few would be able to cite the names of the two induvial murderers. Is it a fascination with the mystery of Jack the Ripper that still gives him recognition in the 21st century? Perhaps it is the enigma of such a dark character against the backdrop of an unjust period of society and the destitute state of his prostitute victims that leave him a perfect subject for his hundreds of mentions in literature and film. Whatever it is, Jack the Ripper's fame is a strange phenomenon that is studied in great detail within this book. The beginning of the book is heavy in details. The writing establishes who the victims are and the exact state of their bodies left behind by the Ripper's cruel hands. I found myself engaged by the horrifying specifics of the first one or two murders but towards the end of this section it felt like information overload, though I can see how this aspect of the book could appeal to those interested in areas like criminology. I was more fascinated by the psychological parts of the book, the in-depth enquires into the mind and motives of the Ripper. This is a collection of numerous theories and stories from a multitude of writers and so the reader is given various perspectives on how Jack the Ripper came to be. There are clear influences shown in certain pieces from the psychologists of their time and it is remarkable how some writers from decades ago would turn to Freudian explanations where now other explanations would be sought.

Of course, the most intriguing parts of the book had to be ones addressing the obvious 'whodunnit' question. There are the theories that shock you as a child, such as hearing that Jack the Ripper could have been Prince Albert. While the royal theory attracts much attention, this book introduces the reader to a vast number of theories and investigations from Ripperologists. There are other theories as grand and conspiratorial as the Prince Albert theory, such as claims that Rasputin knew the Ripper to be a fellow Russian who aimed to reveal the inadequacies of the English police. My favourite theory was that it wasn't Jack the Ripper but instead JILL the Ripper. Who could get away with walking the streets covered in blood without gathering attention? A midwife. And who would be seen as too gentle and weak to commit such atrocities? A woman. Although the theory lacks evidence and a motive, the way that the book covers all the whacky and unusual theories made it a pleasure to read.

An incredible part of this book is how it explained the social influence of Jack the Ripper. Aside from fear and disgust, I had never thought much of the reactions that Jack the Ripper created during his time period. The victimisation of poor impoverished women had people question whether Jack the Ripper was just the product of a corrupt society. Class tensions soared and socialists and conservatives squabbled over the best course of action for solving the problem as newspapers showed the British public how awful it was to live in London's slums. The book explains how the murders were mentioned by George Shaw, who went on to be one of the founders of the Labour Party, as a clear sign that social justice was needed.

There are also many fictional aspects to the book that show the Ripper's influence on society and display how the Victorians thought of him as a fearsome creature. I preferred the non-fictional section of the book since there were so many fictional stories from different authors and I didn't enjoy all of them, but it is fair to say that it all added to the overall effect of the book and made it a more thorough exploration of Jack the Ripper as both a real murderer and a villain in a story. With nearly one-thousand pages, this behemoth of a book felt long and there were some parts that I enjoyed more than others. However, for anyone who has an interest in the darker parts of humanity and isn't afraid of the gruesome details it is well worth the read. This book made me think about the Jack the Ripper case in new ways and had me considering questions that I hadn't thought of before. Its mixes fiction and non-fiction well, showing Otto Penzler's skill in putting together a complete analysis of all aspects of Jack the Ripper.

Further reading: Jack the Ripper: CSI: Whitechapel by John Bennett and Paul Begg

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Buy Jack the Ripper by Otto Penzler at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Jack the Ripper by Otto Penzler at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Jack the Ripper by Otto Penzler at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Jack the Ripper by Otto Penzler at Amazon.com.

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