I’ve spent a fair bit of the past month reading Bruce Robinson’s book They All Love Jack – Busting the Ripper. A mammoth work of over 800 pages, filled with great detail and excellent illustrations. I hadn’t read a Jack the Ripper book for several years and was pleased I found this.
Wind back the clock: A couple of decades ago I spent a great deal of time studying Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel Murders. I read all the books, studied quite a lot of primary sources, and walked Whitechapel by day and night visiting the murder scenes. I was never a Ripperologist, but being interested in Victorian crime I felt that I couldn’t miss out these killings.
In the end I got rather fed up with it. I got tired of books appearing every year claiming this candidate or that for Jack, some of them by reputable authors who should have known better.
I also got fed up with writers who tended to treat Jack’s identity as nothing more than an academic puzzle, seemingly forgetting that the puzzle is only there because several women – each one of them a million times better than their murderer – died brutal and unnecessary deaths.
But I was intrigued by the premise of Bruce Robinson’s book, that really there is no mystery at all – except a very carefully manufactured one. Bruce Robinson’s book is like a tornado of fresh air blowing away the rubbish and misconceptions that have clustered around this miserable serial killer for the past 130 years.
I thought I knew a great deal about Jack the Ripper, but I’d forgotten much that Bruce Robinson mentions and there was a lot in this book I never knew.
Mr Robinson picks away at the “mystery” until it is a mystery no more. Along the way – often in very forthright and politically incorrect terms – he tears open the rottenness of Victorian Values, portraying what a corrupt and nasty society it actually was. I’ve spent much of the past 35 years studying Victorian Britain. I write a great deal about it, both fictionally and otherwise. There is much about the everyday Victorians to admire, particularly the poor and those who tried to make the world a better place. But what our politicians of today lovingly and yearningly call Victorian Values deserve no respect at all.
Bruce Robinson exposes the way the Victorian Establishment of 1888 – a nasty bunch I’ve always thought – conspired to send people in totally the wrong direction in the search for the Whitechapel murderer. All to protect one of their own and not caring about any of the innocent people they implicated instead.
He shows how police inquiries were muffled, how vital evidence that could have brought the killer to book was deliberately destroyed. How coroners at inquests suppressed vital proof and broke the law themselves by refusing to call witnesses who might have identified the murderer. He demonstrated that the politicians in the government of the day worked with a bent police force to make sure that the Establishment figure behind the killings gained protection.
It is a deeply angry book and all the better for that. For these poor women victims had already – like so many of the poor – been ripped apart by a greedy and patrician society long before Jack the Ripper got his hand on them.
Could the police and the Establishment really conspire in this way to cover their backs? Yes they could. We have seen elements only too recently in the Hillsborough tragedy and many other such instances how politicians, police and parts of the press will do anything to suppress the truth.
If you only read one book about Victorian crime and society this year make it this one. Bruce Robinson takes the whole case apart with the kind of forensic skill any barrister would envy. His critique of the more miserable elements of the Victorian Establishment is spot on.
Bruce Robinson is a superb writer and a wonderful historian.
A real page-turner of a book.