Thursday, 14 July 2011

True Crimes

I know I'm not alone here, simply because of the popularity of true crime TV programmes and books, but I am a fan of the 'genre;' particularly stories of murder. This still does not make me feel entirely comfortable with that fact, as killing somebody in cold blood is clearly horrific. However, I also do realise that the phenomenon of straining to see the car crash you're driving past is also human nature, and to some extent we cannot resist these urges.

This is all to explain in a roundabout way my choice of book lately when I visited my local library: Ripper Suspect by D J Leighton.

I think it is safe to say that even if you're not interested in true crime stories, the Jack the Ripper tale must hold some fascination. From my own knowledge of the era, this was partly due to the fact that it was so widely reported at the time due to advances in technology and journalism; but obviously mainly because the killer was never caught. This has of course, led to many writers speculating on who the killer was, to varying degrees of success. The list of suspects ranges from East End Jewish migrants, to even the Duke of Clarence (King Edward VII's eldest son) and Lewis Carroll.

The book I read concentrated on one of the lesser known suspects: Montague John Druitt. He was a barrister who was born into a well-off family in Dorset, who moved to Blackheath to become a schoolmaster to supplement his income. This immediately raises questions as to how he ever became a suspect; two separate coroners believed the killer had surgical experience or was even a practising doctor and the killer clearly had a local knowledge of the Whitechapel area, neither of which he seemed to have.

Upon reading the book, he became a suspect based on the fact that the Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Melville Macnaghten, believed him to be the killer - two years after the murder of Mary Kelly. Oh, and because Druitt killed himself by drowning himself in the Thames shortly after her murder.

The evidence is pretty flimsy to be honest, especially because many people believe that Mary Kelly was actually not the last victim. She certainly suffered the most extensive mutilation, which may have lead people to believe the killer had reached his climax. However, there were a further four murders that have been attributed to Jack the Ripper. Therefore, it would have been impossible for Druitt to be the killer unless he had found a way back from his watery grave.

All this preamble is leading me to one thing: the pointlessness of this book. The main narrative is less than 200 pages long, and the first 100 concentrate on Druitt's adventures on the cricket field and the connections he made through playing matches with the aristocracy. Yes, he was a keen cricketer and a member of the MCC, which apparently means the Marylebone Cricket Club. Throughout the whole book, this is never mentioned, as if someone who is reading about Jack the Ripper should already know this. If I had deigned to read the inside back page about the author before even starting the book, I would have seen that he has had a lifelong interest in cricket. That's right, he didn't write this book because he had an interest in the Whitechapel murders, he wrote it because one of the (tenuous at best) suspects was a cricket fan too. The back 20+ pages even have Druitt's cricket scorecards!

It is clear early on that Druitt wasn't the killer, not least because of the few reasons I mentioned above. Therefore, in my opinion, he wasn't a suspect in the traditional sense of the word. He wasn't questioned by police and he couldn't defend himself against these allegations as he was conveniently dead at the time.

All this to basically say that I feel cheated by this book; enough to write a whole bloody blog on the thing. I went to the True Crime section of the library, not the Sports section. And if I was going to read about any sport (unlikely), it certainly wouldn't be cricket; the most boringest sport ever created.

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