Tuesday, January 01, 2019

My book report: A curious person's dream

Bruce Robinson, "They All Love Jack":  Busting the Ripper, Harper, 2015

Who doesn't love a good conspiracy theory?  And by "good" I mean a theory so determined and self-assured that it grabs you like the Ancient Mariner and makes you suspend disbelief for as long as it lasts.  None of this "it seems likely" or "some researchers think," no unanswered questions or loose ends, a theory that nails it, period, case closed.  With footnotes.

Alice Walker has been in hot water since she revealed that she is reading David Icke, the British writer who starts with lizard people and moves on to a Theory of Everything which strikes some people as a tad anti-Semitic.  Come on, it's lizard people.  Walker said it was "a curious person's dream come true," not that she buys it.  Maybe she's trying to figure out if it's satire or not.

I am certain that Bruce Robinson* believes he has identified Jack the Ripper after more than a century.  His book is an obsessive, cranky polemic that goes on for more than eight hundred pages and clearly reflects years of evidence-sifting (or rigging, take your pick).  Like any good Ripperologist (yes, Spellcheck, that's what they call themselves), he has a celebrity candidate abetted by a vast conspiracy.  I won't keep you in suspense -- it's the Freemasons.  Those guys again.

The celebrity, now forgotten, is Michael Maybrick, a popular concert singer and songwriter of the late nineteenth century.  Robinson is certain that Maybrick committed not only the Whitechapel atrocities but a dozen other murders while touring, and that he poisoned his brother James and pinned it on his sister-in-law Florence, who was duly convicted of murder.  Everyone who mattered in Victorian society was a Freemason, from the Prince of Wales to the top police, and they all knew Brother Maybrick was a mad killer and looked the other way.  Two problems with this:  Maybrick did not have the detailed knowledge of Whitechapel and female anatomy displayed by the Ripper; and the more people who share a secret, the less likely it is to remain a secret.  I enjoyed reading it, but I have to agree with the Irish Times, which called the book "wonderfully bonkers."

I wish it were true.  I hope it is.  Under the name Stephen Adams, Maybrick composed a number of the best-selling songs of the era, including "The Holy City," a/k/a "Jerusalem."  It makes me happy to think that slab of Victorian parlor-piety was the work of Jack the Ripper.

*Robinson, the writer-director of How To Get Ahead In Advertising and Withnail and I, is not the first filmmaker to devote himself to a cold case.  In 1967 King Vidor collected evidence on the murder of silent director William Desmond Taylor, which was published after his death by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick as A Cast of Killers.  Of Oliver Stone's meditation on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the less said the better.    


Blogger The New York Crank said...

We will never know the truth, of course, but my theory is that, like most serial killers. Jack the Ripper was a nobody.

He was likely the kind of person who kept to himself, never had much to say, but "never bothered anybody," according to the neighbors. Or, although he was merely a (pick one) fishmonger/butcher/weaver's agent/libriarian/laborer, he seemed to be quietly sullen, although never directly offensive. One Cockney neighbor might have told reporters, " 'e kept to 'imself love, but 'e was always as polite as a gentleman."

Had he been caught, and had he had a living mother she would have said, "He was a good boy. He always made his own bed. He was at the top of his class in continuation school."

Had his room been searched it would have revealed a lethal collection of knives, scissors, razors, snuff pornography, and things that might explode.

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank

1:17 PM  

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