Even in the midst of the almost daily horrors of the butcheries committed by ISIS, the public interest in Jack the Ripper seems insatiable. Jack, if there was such a single person, destroyed, apparently, only six women in London’s teeming fetid Whitechapel district in the Autumn of 1888, and then, apparently, disappeared, leaving Scotland Yard empty-handed and the case unsolved.
‘Who did it’ has become an industry of its own. as a quick look at Google confirms. In half a second, you get 11.9 million contacts! Even with that level of saturation, the steady flow of ‘case closed’ books continues with insistent declarations regarding the fiend who did it — now clearly identified! even without witnesses, no fingerprints, nor even faintly modern forensics, etc. In fact, in Victorian times, it required reliable eye-witnesses to convict anyone of murder.
Even Sherlock Holmes has been busy regularly capturing Jack since the first Holmes-Ripper story appeared in German in 1907. And Murder by Decree (1979) is certainly one of the most entertaining and best casted of the Holmes movie genre, in which Holmes once again captures Jack.
And, of course, the paranormal, as the spirit medium, Robert James Lees, self-styled as The Recorder, became a prominent presence in the newspapers of the day. Lees, 39 at the time, is ginned up in various shapes in movies and stories, again always with the necessary strong implication that he was genuine, and with his visions of who ‘did it’ being used as a secondary plot line. Also he is always described as an adviser to the Queen, though, in fact, his only contact with Queen Victoria was a thank-you note from her for the copy of his book that he had sent.
Even with all this, there are Ripper questions that are obvious, that, to my mind anyway, have never been satisfactorily answered, or in many presentations, not even addressed.
So, why Jack and The Thought Reader, a novel in-progress? The protagonist and narrator of Jack and The Thought Reader (and also of Tales of a Thought Reader on Amazon) is Stuart C, Cumberland, the most successful thought reader of his day, who did get involved, peripherally, in the Ripper story. Both novels of Cumberland are historical fiction, but strive to adhere to factual history as closely as possible.
Cumberland also created a strong reputation as an exposer of fake spirit mediums, so bringing him up against Robert Lees was natural, as well as his own professional need to exploit the Ripper frenzy to his own benefit. He wasn’t the only performer/magician to do that.
Researching the Jack novel has taken me back to favorite movies and stories, while digging back into the factual (such as it is) accounts of those weeks of the “Autumn Horror”. I have visited London many times over the past number of years, including Lime House and the East End, Naturally, nothing resembles Whitechapel in 1888.
There is a feeling, however, in some places of other voices.
The police of the day could not win without a major break: an eye-witness preferably, solid physical clues, a connection that could suggest a motive other than just madness. But there were no factual connections, the five women, the ‘canonical five’, according to the police, did not know each other, though the density of Whitechapel could be used to explain almost any theory, so why those five, as opposed to any number of other women?
But was there no connection?