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Ripperology sometimes obsessive interest in studying the crimes of Jack the Ripper?is a subject of timeless interest that has suffered from confusion, exaggeration, and hyperbole for over a century. Jack the Ripper was probably the first serial killer to appear in a large metropolis at a time when the general populace was literate and the press was a force for social change. The press was also partly responsible for creating many myths surrounding the Ripper. Robin Odell's Ripperology is the first study to present a sequential history of literary investigations of Jack the Ripper's crimes and to address the seven principal phases of Ripper speculations: the initial wave of journalism that followed the 1888 murders; the revelations of highers-up in Scotland Yard who pretended to know more than they actually did; the period between 1925 and 1949 when sensational and factually shaky book-length solutions were proposed, including the theories that Jack avenged his son's syphilis or was a female midwife in disguise; the dawn of more responsible study, between 1950 and 1975, in which the author himself played an important role; better documented studies spurred by the opening of Scotland Yard files in 1976; the explosion of new Ripper hypotheses in the 1990s; and current theories, including Patricia Cornwell's DNA-based accusation of artist Walter Sickert. Ripperology does not attempt to give a detailed, encyclopedic account of the murders. Rather, its aim is to tell the story of the extraordinary literary efforts directed at solving the mystery. While there are no formal conclusions, and this book does not seek to saturate the reader with minutiae, exaggerated claims are debunked and misconceived ideas are dispelled. Author Odell, having studied these unsolved serial killings for four decades, guides the reader in his easy narrative rich with documentation. Ripperology will be welcomed by true crime aficionados.
When the unnamed killer who would become known as Jack the Ripper slit the throats of five prostitutes in London's East End in 1888, the first man to compile his observations and theories on the deaths was Sir Melville Macnaghten, the city's Assistant Chief Constable. This man's notes on the five crimes earned their victims the title of the "Macnaghten Five" and provided the first log of the patterns of a killer whose murders would grow into a legend, spawning so many books, articles and studies, "some to the point of farcical distraction," that Odell doubted anything new could be added to the canon of Jack. Nevertheless, Odell condenses the vast tracts of Ripper literature into a clean, readable survey that critically summarizes commentary from sources both respected and absurd. Odell does not gloss over the anti-Semitism that colored early investigations, nor does she ignore grisly moments of the investigations-such as the postal delivery of what was believed to be a victim's kidney along with the famous "from hell" note. She also provides a summary of rebuttals to crime novelist Patricia Cornwell's book that named painter Walter Sickert as the murderer. Odell's mastery of the competing paths of Ripperologists resists the sensationalism that runs rampant in crime writing, instead offering a level-headed reappraisal of explanations that Ripper fans and true-crime readers will enjoy.