In an earlier post I wrote up a few of my thoughts on Donald Rumbelow's The Complete Jack the Ripper. In this post I'd like to say something about Paul Begg's Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History.
My photos of the 2004 revised paperback edition are of a somewhat battered copy from my local library. Thus they aren't of the best quality, but they'll give you some idea of the book's cover and table of contents.
First, a few words about the apparatus. Each chapter of Begg's book contains numerous endnotes that cite many different sources. In my post on Rumbelow's book I complained about the lack of notes. So in this single respect Begg's book is superior to Rumbelow's. Unfortunately, Begg's book, unlike Rumbelow's, doesn't have a bibliography, so you'll have to work through the notes if you want to find suggestions for further reading. This is annoying, since putting together a bibliography is not all that difficult to do. Begg's book, like Rumbelow's, does not contain a single map. Once again, as I mentioned in my earlier post, I don't have a map of the East End in my head. I assume that many readers are in the same situation. Consequently, a map would have been helpful. Overall, therefore, simply because of the endnotes, I prefer Begg's book from the scholarly point of view.
Begg's book contains much more social history than Rumbelow's. If you prefer to read a Ripper book that mostly concentrates on the murders, then Rumbelow is probably your man. Of course, the social history is interesting. The extent of poverty and violence in the East End matters for understanding the Ripper's crimes, but knowing about it doesn't really help in trying to determine his identity. So you can take your pick based on the degree of your interest in historical context of the murders.
As for the identity of Jack the Ripper, Begg looks at the traditional suspects at some length and, fortunately, doesn't pay much attention to the wilder candidates. Begg ultimately plumps for Kosminski. Here's what he says on page 351:
So who was Jack the Ripper? The sad fact is that nobody knows and nobody is likely to know. Having said that, somewhere there may be a document - perhaps misfiled at the Public Record Office, in the archives of a library or maybe sitting in a dusty box in someone's loft - that will reveal all. As things stand, I think Aaron Kosminski is the leading contender, not because I think he was Jack the Ripper, but because of all the policemen who expressed an opinion, Anderson is the only one to have expressed certainty. We need to find out why.Begg is referring to Robert Anderson, who was appointed to the CID during the Ripper investigation. He fingered Kosminksi in his memoirs, but not by name. Only Donald Swanson, in his marginalia to his copy of Anderson's book, identified the killer as Kosminski. Subsequent research by Ripperologists has found only one Kosminski who fits the bill, namely, Aaron Kosminski. Begg's case against Kosminski isn't conclusive, but it's certainly food for thought.
In conclusion, I should say that I greatly enjoyed Begg's book. I recommend it to anyone interested in Jack the Ripper.