“Wholeheartedly recommended by us” – They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper by Bruce Robinson
Bruce Robinson’s 800 page plus diatribe (for that is what it is) is a tour de force. Just so you know where we are starting from. When They All Love Jack was released in hardback, it found its champions (not least those people who urged its presence on the longlist for the Samuel Johnson prize) and its detractors (not least those people who stood in the way of it making the shortlist and winning the Samuel Johnson prize). Its champions praised the obvious research, the scathing invective, the personality that roars from the pages; its detractors complained about all of the swearing (swearing rendering a work amateur in some eyes, in need of a good editor – I mean, please). In case there is any doubt, we are on the side of the champions. Fuck the detractors.
This is a book about Jack the Ripper, the many faced phantom who prowled the dour streets of Whitechapel (and elsewhere) in the 1880s. Robinson has a theory (although in saying this, I can imagine Bruce Robinson saying, Fuck off! I don’t have a theory! I know who the fucking Ripper was and I tell you within the pages of this book and then I prove it, indisputably. Don’t be a cunt!) about who the Ripper was (we won’t drop that spoiler here) and he (and his researcher) have spent 15 years, so we’re told, rooting around in a great many nooks and crannies to unearth some incredible finds. This is a book you read with a smile on your face, despite the horror – and the smile arises from what Robinson himself describes as “laying the pipe”. Time and time again, Robinson shares with us the official version of events, what the police said at the time, how the supportive press agreed – and then lays in with a whole dose of truth, supported by – you know, witnesses and journalists and previously unearthed Home Office memos, and the like.
So, for example, there is a victim who was seen (by, you know, 28 different people) holding a bunch of grapes – which, if the police were, you know, doing their jobs, might have led to fruit sellers in the area being interviewed who, wow, might have actually seen the Ripper (which is actually what happened). Only the grapes were quietly excised from the picture and no actual witnesses were invited to the inquest and the police sought to discredit the fruit seller who saw the Ripper (and received a threatening epistle from the Ripper). Taken on its own, this is a powerful story. Added to 50 such examples, however, and the power of the book comes to exert a powerful sway. (To the extent that, if you are anything like me, you will bore everyone you know rotten with it and then encourage them all to read it – which they will do, and then they in turn will bore everyone solid with extracts, and on and on it goes until everyone in the world has read the book. You may also travel to London, go on a Ripper tour and inwardly sneer at the way in which they dismiss such things as the writing on the wall that was for some reason removed by the Commissioner of Police, who comes in for a lot of ire and spite from Robinson.)
They All Love Jack is also a book about all of the books that have been written about the Ripper over the last 100 years. Robinson works in much the same that Sarah Churchwell did in The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, reviewing inaccuracies across the decades, taking issue with fallacies made concrete by repetition, collegiate nods and winks and updated editions. As you are probably aware, each new book about the Ripper comes with a new possible candidate for who the man might have been. One of the many interesting elements of They All Love Jack is the length Robinson goes to concerning the scary as shit Ripper letters (which many discount as a hoax and Robinson believes are powerfully not – and makes a serious case for their reinstatement) and the way in which Ripperologists leapt on their dismissal because dismissing the letters makes any candidate a possibility; Robinson’s candidate fits the letters like a glove. But Robinson isn’t content for the letters to fit like a glove (his candidate travels about the country, the letters come from across the country) – he picks out extremely specific details that match his nominee on a sub-atomic level. It’s hard to argue with They All Love Jack.
And that’s not all – a note Robinson picked up in a biography by Raymond Chandler turns out to have a massive impact on the latter pages of the book in a way that recalls nothing so much as Making a Murderer. If you lapped up Making a Murderer, I guarantee you will lap this up. Just know that the level of excitement generated by Making a Murderer is only a small portion of the multi-fold delights that comprise They All Love Jack, additional delights including the way in which the book reminded this reader of Robinson’s film, Withnail and I, the ways in which the sheer corruption of the English establishment recalled Owen Jones’ excellent book, The Establishment, and the hilarity of Robinson’s vituperativeness (my particular favourite bit being a dismissal of the official line with, “This is horseshit!”).
Any Cop?: Thrilling, chilling, hilarious, erudite and bizarrely fun, They All Love Jack is one of our favourites of 2016 and comes wholeheartedly recommended by us.
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- May 17, 2016 / 9:00 am