During the past couple of years I've gotten interested in the work of Colin Wilson. In the future I'll explain why that is so. I'm most interested in his fiction, and recently I've been going through his crime novels. Wilson often wrote about serial killers, both in his fiction as well as his non-fiction; therefore, I've been brushing up on my knowledge of serial killers. So, of course, that requires reading about Jack the Ripper at some point.
One of the best known books about the Ripper murders is Donald Rumbelow's The Complete Jack the Ripper. It has seen several editions since its initial publication in 1975, and I've photographed the cover of the 2013 edition. Rumbelow's book is an enjoyable work of popular history, although I have to admit that I would have preferred it to be more scholarly. I'm not a big fan of history books without citations. There are no notes of any sort, not even for the quotations, and the bibliography is less than a page. I'm not sure why publishers find this acceptable. I guess, perhaps, that scholarly apparatus puts off some readers, but the lack of proper citations undermines to some degree the intellectual seriousness of any historical book. Sadly, though, we just have to live with this sort of thing in true crime writing.
Some books on the Ripper murders contain a fair amount of social history. Rumbelow includes a bit of this, but it's mostly confined to the first chapter. He then constructs vivid accounts of the murder victims and the police investigation. Along the way he argues, somewhat plausibly, that Elizabeth Stride, who is traditionally considered one of the five canonical Ripper victims, was not killed by Jack the Ripper. Instead, Rumbelow claims, on the basis of the eyewitness testimony, that she was murdered by someone who was "clearly passionate" about her, and thus not someone who had merely picked her up on the street.
The heart of the book, containing almost half of its pages, is Rumbelow's discussion of Ripper suspects. One thing that I've noticed about Ripper books is the way in which the detailed accounts of the murders provide no real clue as to the identity of the killer. When it comes to naming names, readers inevitably encounter discussions of Melville Macnaghten's papers, Robert Anderson's autobiography The Lighter Side of My Official Life (and Donald Swanson's marginalia in his copy of Anderson's book), asylum records, arrest records, and the like. That is, really nothing in the earlier chapters of a typical Ripper book gives us much help in determining the identity of the Ripper. Rumbelow's book is no different in this regard. He looks at many suspects, even the farfetched ones put forth over the years, but doesn't settle on one as the most likely. The book ends with chapters on the Ripper in popular culture and other Ripper-like killers.
Overall, I liked Rumbelow's book and am happy to recommend it. As I indicated above, I would have preferred more scholarly apparatus. Another defect, as far as I'm concerned, is the lack of maps. Maybe other readers have a map of the East End in their heads, but I don't. Even a simple street map would have been a great help. Many publishers pay little attention to this sort of thing, although, once again, I don't know why. (Military history books routinely have atrocious or inadequate maps. Why authors tolerate this sort of thing is beyond me.) But Rumbelow's book is soberly written and free of wild speculation. If you're interested in Jack the Ripper, Rumbelow's The Complete Jack the Ripper is well worth your time.