The Big Book of Jack the Ripper
Edited by Otto Penzler
Review by Mario Guslandi
Vintage Crime / Black Lizard Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781101971130
Date: 04 October 2016 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Arguably the most famous serial killer in history, Jack the Ripper continues to trigger speculation and to stimulate the imagination of both scholars and fiction writers. Who was the cruel assassin who killed, disemboweled, and mutilated prostitutes in the Whitechapel area of London in the fall of 1888? Why, after little more than two months of terror, did the killings suddenly ceased? Did the Ripper die or leave the city or did somebody, somehow, put an end to his/her ferocious murders? What was the reason for such violent and ruthless crimes?
Editor Otto Penzler has assembled a massive volume (848 pages printed in double columns!) of the available information about the Ripper mystery and a number of classical and new tales addressing the events which took place in Whitechapel during that nightmarish period.
The first part of the volume describes in depth the circumstances of the killings and the state of the corpses, including all the gory details as published by The Times in 1888 and as examined and re-examined countless times by journalists, writers, and Ripperologists in general. Particularly interesting is Peter Underwood's "Who Was Jack the Ripper?", originally published in 1987 and reprinted here, where the long list of possible suspects is painstakingly reviewed, and the pros and cons of the various hypotheses investigated and discussed. Indeed a fascinating article taking into consideration all possible clues from that of a foreign sailor later on returned to the sea, to that of a relative of the Queen, not to mention the recurring idea that, in view of the quick removal of internal organs from some of the victims, the Ripper could be a surgeon. Truth be told, the non-fictional section of the book is at least as enticing as the fictional material included in the following sections.
Among the classical stories inspired by the Ripper murders, the more accomplished, in my opinion, are:
Boris Akunin's "The Decorator", a sinister piece where the Ripper, relocated in Moscow, starts a new series of brutal killings;One of my favorite pieces is "The Lodger" by Marie Belloc Lowndes, a creepy, very famous tale repeatedly turned into a film by various directors including Alfred Hitchcock, reproduced here both in its original version as a short story and its expanded, subsequent version as a novella.
The other favorite of mine is "A Study in Terror", ostensibly an Ellery Queen story, actually a delightful Sherlockian tale where a frustrated Holmes tries to hunt down the Ripper.
The book also includes some brand new stories inspired by the Ripper murders. The best of these stories to me, is Anne Perry's "Jack", effectively depicting how the killings brought about disquiet and suspicions even among married couples, and a series of well known tales more loosely connected to the Ripper mystery and mostly set in modern times: Robert Bloch's often anthologized "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper"; Karl Edward Wagner's "An Awareness of Angels"; William F Nolan's "The Final Stone"; and Charles L. Grant's "My Shadow Is the Fog".
All in all a must have hefty book for anybody interested in the famous character of the brutal killer who, after bringing terror and death in the street of London, vanished forever seemingly without a trace leaving no clue about his identity and his motivations.