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August 2022

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  • August 2022

    Robert Clack – Jack the Ripper The Scenes of Crime

    Bought in hardback some time ago, I had saved reading this for when I had time.
    The book details the Whitechapel Murders, so covers not just the canonical 5, and is better for it. Indeed, my interest was repeatedly piqued when reading about non-canonical crimes.
    The book also covers a lot of social history, rather than being a whodunnit kind of book. There is a lot of explanation of the backgrounds of the victims, and this is done in a consistent way throughout the book, making it easy for the reader to keep up, and also ensuring there is little ambiguity on these factual issues Mr Clack reports and lays out so clearly.
    Something that really stood out for me in the reading, was how many relationships broke down in the LVP (either the victims own, or their parents relationships), and how these relationship breakdowns, owing to death, desertion, disease, or similar caused such hardship, and made me thankful for the many safety nets we have in society now (which are being stripped away, but that is another discussion…) In essence, this highlights the vulnerability of so many people.
    The other thing that occurred to me a number of times when reading this book, is the references to (in particular) womens drinking habits, and the blame being laid at the womens door for their drinking. ( NB This is a generally accepted consensus, not the authors view I hasten to add). The thought that occurred to me was that the women referenced generally had a poor set of life circumstances, and potentially abusive husbands/partners, or were very likely subject to aspects of mistreatment. This led me to consider were they drinking as a form of self medication, to cope with the life circumstances, potential abuse, or similar. It became a bit of a chicken and egg scenario – was their drinking the cause of the hardship, or a symptom/result of it? By the end of the book, my feeling was that the drinking was more it was a symptom/result.

    The book is peppered with exceptional quality images. I truly mean exceptional. They are so clear, and generally produced large enough to stare at for prolonged periods. There is so much to see, especially in the older photo’s. What really comes through is a clear love/affinity for the local area. I also have a clear memory very early on into reading of looking at an image and thinking to myself “I wish I had a modern day photo of the same location to compare… then turned the page and there was exactly what I hoped for! And this happened on a few other occasions, which was extremely valued.

    So there is a wealth of biographical detail for the characters, but also a wealth of biographical detail of the area too.

    What is clear to me, is there is also a lot of empathy from the author towards the victims. This comes across time and time again.

    It’s clear the author knows his subject well, which leads me to 2 or 3 minor gripes. The first is one I express a number of times, and imo suggests the book is a good one. I wanted more. I wanted the author to share more details, such as why he excluded Stride from his list of JtR victims. I definitely wanted more detail and considerations regarding the proposed links between emma smith and mary ann Austin in the final chapter (which was a really good chapter, and a really interesting idea!)

    There were some other minor issues around punctuation. I don’t know whether these were as a result of a lack of proof reader, or were more as a result of the amazon printing the work. For example, I had a paragraph repeated in the Annie Chapman chapter. Frances Coles is referred to in her chapter heading as Frances Cole, and in that chapter Sadler becomes Saddler part way through, and Henry Moore become Henry More. There were also occasional punctuation issues (punctuation in the wrong place for example), but as above, I don’t know if this is as a result of amazons printing processes.

    It's a good book, and I am glad I have the hardcover version. I will certainly treasure it for the multiple images and the social history. I don’t know whether Mr Clack is thinking about writing a more detailed/investigative book on the subject or not, but I know there is likely to be an appetite for such a book, certainly from this reader. There is clearly a lot more background knowledge of the subject and locality that the author knows, and I do feel, niche as it is, that there is a market out there for the slightly more detailed books, that go into a bit more detail and do pre-suppose a certain level of existing knowledge on the case.
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