So there’s another theory about the identity of Jack the Ripper. Another book.
Not that I’m obsessed, or anything. I’m not even especially a fan of serial killers in fiction – although of course I enjoyed Silence of the Lambs, and I love the Val McDermid series. Even Sue Grafton’s private detective Kinsey Milhone seems to be going there now – at least I expect that’s where Y and Z might finish up, given the state of play at the end of X.
Okay, maybe I am fan of serial killers in fiction… Perhaps one day I’ll write one.
The Ripper Museum is back in the news again – apparently Class War, who caused a ruckus outside the Cereal Killer Cafe recently have the Ripper Museum in their sights too, and are planning to protest today.Are they developing some kind of theme? (Edited – apparently they have now cancelled today’s planned protest). And the museum’s PR man got off to a good start in a Twitter spat when he claimed that there’s no reason to think Jack the Ripper was misogynist. Perhaps he hasn’t been to the museum or read anything about the crimes?
So let this be an excuse to go look at some of the Ripper museum merchandise – here’s a link to a wine glass. Apparently they are being phased out – I can’t imagine why. So if you have an uncontrollable urge to drink from a glass illustrated with the blood of dead women, now’s your big chance.
But what grabbed my attention was the news there’s yet another book due out – They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper, by Bruce Robinson.
Robinson identifies a new suspect – and more interesting than that – a theory about why the police investigation went nowhere. A conspiracy theory involving no less than the Freemasons. In any case, it all makes far more sense to me than the previous theories. I won’t attempt to summarise – anyone who is interested will find the article here.
It’s long but well worth a read, and not only for the Ripper theory. Robinson is the writer and director of Withnail and I, he wrote the screenplay for The Killing Fields, and he wrote a novel called The Peculiar Memories of Thoman Penman – which I couldn’t resist ordering even though my pile of books waiting to be read has reached a dangerous height. Robinson had a difficult childhood filled with secrets and lies and violence. The novel is described as a kind of fictionalised autobiography, and apparently his mother’s response to the publication was to express a wish to buy up all copies and burn them.
Sometimes fiction can get closer to the truth – and the truth is often painful.
He says he fell into researching the Ripper story – a task which has taken him fifteen years – purely by accident – but I’m not convinced. It’s also a story full of secrets and lies and violence after all. Isn’t that what most crime fiction is about? What goes on underneath the surface.
My current theory is that those of us who love to read and write about these things are the kinds of people who are never satisfied until we’ve turned over every stone and carefully inspected the underside. Just like Jane Marple in that cosy English village of St Mary Mead we are alert to the subtext of human behaviour. We know that what people say and how they present themselves isn’t the whole story. We know there’s a whole subterranean world of hidden motivations. People aren’t always who and what they say they are. Sometimes we even lie to ourselves, about ourselves. How then can we begin to trust other people?
So crime fiction – and true crime like Truman Capote, Janet Malcolm, Ann Rule and the Ripper books, even the addictive podcast Serial – are all ways of trying to get to the truth of human behaviour. It’s a survival mechanism. If our trust in other people is undermined in early life, understanding people becomes a driving necessity. From the earliest myths, through folk and fairy tales, epic poetry and gothic novels, revenge tragedies and morality plays, penny dreadfuls and religious tracts – perhaps that’s what all storytelling is about.
Of course, there aren’t many serial killers out there – the danger is really far closer to home. Every week two women in the UK are killed by partners and ex partners. Children are at more risk from their own families than from anyone else. These truths are hard to face.
No wonder we are mesmerised by the Jack the Ripper story.
Sources and Links