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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE BANALITY OF EVIL
Many people over the years have published books about the 'Yorkshire Ripper' but this must have been the first, and maybe the last, to be written about Peter Sutcliffe. The distinction? the 'Yorkshire Ripper' is largely a media phenomenon, a tabloid bogeyman, an inhuman monster, but in this book Burn shows us that Peter Sutcliffe, despite his crimes, was very much in many...
Published on 7 Jun. 2008 by Peter Hurst

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not as good as expected
From other reviews and the blurb-quotes on the cover of this book I had great expectations of it, which were not really met.
I haven't read anything else about Peter Sutcliffe, but I was hoping to find more psychological insights here.
The book concentrates at length on the social and family background and is interesting in the portrait of that bleak part of...
Published on 27 Aug. 2011 by wordparty


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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE BANALITY OF EVIL, 7 Jun. 2008
By 
Peter Hurst "peter hurst" (wigan, england) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Many people over the years have published books about the 'Yorkshire Ripper' but this must have been the first, and maybe the last, to be written about Peter Sutcliffe. The distinction? the 'Yorkshire Ripper' is largely a media phenomenon, a tabloid bogeyman, an inhuman monster, but in this book Burn shows us that Peter Sutcliffe, despite his crimes, was very much in many ways your average Joe. He was and is: somebody's husband and somebody's son.

One might imagine that such a portrayal would therefore tend towards a liberal 'bleeding heart' style representation of someone who is still, to this day, an extremely controversial and newsworthy figure. That is where you would be wrong. The opposite in fact is true. Like Hannah Arendt's famous depiction of Adolf Eichman, what Burn's discovers is that it is the banality of Sutcliffe's evil that lends it it's most sinister aspect.

We do not read the words 'Yorkshire Ripper' untill 150 pages into the book and up till that point the significant figure in the book is not Peter Sutcliffe but John Sutcliffe, Peter's dad. Burn takes us deep into the heart of the world in which Peter Sutcliffe grew up, replete with the poverty, working class chauvinistic culture and the individual family members with their respective idiosyncracies.

Burn spent 3yrs living in Bingley and speaking with the people who knew Sutcliffe, not least his immediate family, and it shows. What emerges is a Sutcliffe who is human, all too human. His shyness, social awkwardness, devotion to his mother and love of motors are all here alongside the murder and gore.

Burn writes as a novelist rather than a journalist and therefore avoids the pitfalls of sensationalism and hyperbole to create a vivid picture of the world in which Sutcliffe emerged, a world of which Sutcliffe was a product of and not an unintelligible aberration. Burn's Sutcliffe is thus all the more unsettling for he is one of 'us' and not the constitutive 'other.'

Colin Wilson has described this book as "a book that will undoubtably become a classic in the field of investigative criminology" but to my mind it is so much more than that, in fact it is not criminology at all in it's classic sense but a novelistic yet naturalistic account of a particular time and particular place put in to sharp historical focus by the actions of a man born in Bingley, Yorkshire, in 1946 to John and Kathleen.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, 17 Nov. 2004
By A Customer
This is an excellent book to read if you are interested in finding out more about Peter Sutcliffe and his background and upbringing. the writer spend nearly three years living in Sutcliffe's home town of Bingley, speaking to friends and relatives and building up a biographical picture of his life up until his final arrest. It's a truely gripping book, I found it hard to put down. Read this book first, then for a view from the police and victims' perspective, read "Wicked Beyond Belief" by Michael Bilton which is also fantastic.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars behind the beard, 9 Jan. 2006
Neither romantic nor hysterical, we are drawn into the underbelly of 1980s Northern England. Memories of 'Look North' and black and white newspapers are superbly resurrected; Sutcliffe's crimes played out against bitter and bingo. Beautifully paced, detailed without becoming dull, this account is as much a social commentary as an exploration of a disturbed (?)mind. As mentioned above,, read with Bilton's 'Wicked beyond belief' for the Police's part in the events. A fascinating insight into pre-computer, pre-DNA investigation.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best one, 25 April 2010
As a young female Police recruit in the West Yorkshire Police at the time the Ripper was on the loose and caught I have an insight into the Police and public side of the effect this inhuman man had on the lives of everyone in Yorkshire. I have read most, if not all of the books on all aspects of Peter Sutcliffe and his crimes and this one is the best. As well as describing Sutcliffe, his life and family along with the lives and families of the victims, he captures the fear Yorkshire was held in. With DNA and computers, thankfully, this situation of a serial murderer on the loose for years will not happen again so this book is the one to read for a full insight how the police, public, victims and judicial system were sucked into the world and actions of a serial murderer.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Somebody's Husband, Somebody's Son, 4 July 2012
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Somebody's Husband, Somebody's Son: The Story of the Yorkshire Ripper (Kindle Edition)
This must be one of the most fascinating and unsettling books I have read. Rather than a 'true crime' book, this is a biography of Peter Sutcliffe, looking at his family, childhood and youth, through his adulthood, crimes and imprisonment. The book in no way dehumanizes Sutcliffe's victims, but what it does do is show us the bizarre way that the Yorkshire Ripper was both a savage killer and the man who visited elderly relatives at Christmas; a man who helped his father and brother rearrange furniture and then drove straight to the location where he had hidden a body - who had both a human and an utterly demonic side.

In hindsight, it is easy to spot bizarre and worrying signs in Peter Sutcliffe's early years, but mainly he seemed to be a fairly average person. He did not achieve great things either academically or career wise, drifting through various jobs and marrying his wife after she had a breakdown and in spite of the fact she was seeing another man. Although essentially a loner, this was a person who had parents, siblings, a wife, relations and friends. It is almost inconceivable that he was not arrested earlier, despite being interviewed five times by the police with early indications that tied him to the case (a £5 note found in a victim's handbag that was given in a paypacket to one of a handful of firms, including his; the fact he was fined for hitting a prostitute with a weighted sock before the murders and that he was also arrested lurking behind a hedge with a hammer). Possibly today, with modern computer systems, his name would have been flagged up much sooner. Although this was obviously a huge manhunt, people who knew Sutcliffe, including members of his own family, considered that he could be a possible candidate for the 'Ripper' and certainly at least one of his former friends visited the police to voice concerns.

Mostly though, this really is a book about the true face of evil. It is a sad fact that this man was undetected for so long because he blended in. From a small town, yet anonymous once in his hunting grounds, he did not look or appear threatening. Sadly, many of his victims did not see the attack coming - it is awful to contemplate how this man literally attacked and killed and then appeared so normal to those around him. The author walked a fine line writing this book, but he was fair in his representations of everybody he wrote about. This is an excellent read and I recommend it highly.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not as good as expected, 27 Aug. 2011
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From other reviews and the blurb-quotes on the cover of this book I had great expectations of it, which were not really met.
I haven't read anything else about Peter Sutcliffe, but I was hoping to find more psychological insights here.
The book concentrates at length on the social and family background and is interesting in the portrait of that bleak part of England in the bleak 1970s, but I found the character studies of Sutcliffe's father, mother, brothers, friends etc. not particularly illuminating and rather dull. There is nothing sensationalistic about the book - which is a good thing - but the style is a little flat for my taste.
For the most part, the book chronicles daily life into which the murders randomly fall, but perhaps because of his nature, the lack of interviews etc. - I was left feeling I hadn't learned much at all about Sutcliffe himself or his driving forces.
On the cover of the book there is a quote from Norman Mailer himself saying that "Somebody's Husband, Somebody's Son" might be compared with Mailer's own "The Executioner's Song" and Capote's "In Cold Blood," but for me both of those fine books are in quite another league for the light they shine on the darkest of crimes and lives.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but with some disappointing gaps, 6 Nov. 2013
By 
Siriam (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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I remember interviewing a female undergraduate from Leeds University shortly after the horrific murder of a fellow student by Peter Sutcliffe. The innate fear she conveyed when the subject came up has always remained with me as sad evidence of the far reaching local impact events described in this book had. To an extent Burns conveys that community fear but the real value and strength of this book is the meticulous research done over several years with their agreement on the Sutcliffe family starting from before the birth of Peter. The approach delivers what most other tomes on the topic do not, which is a measured build up of what happened and the almost automaton style of murder that Sutcliffe pursued.

The layering of events chronologically removes the "Ripper as monster" image the media reveled in exploiting under its cheque book journalism approach once he was captured. Instead of an over stated portrayal of key murders, one gets an excellent analysis of class conscious and petty jealousy driven people who started poor in the Yorkshire area they were born into. Within the family environment all suffered in different ways as they either struggled to improve themselves or remained totally indifferent, relying often on petty theft to better their position or just suffering their lot, in the case of Peter Sutcliffe's mother. While she did not contribute, Sutcliffe's wife Sonia casts a wide shadow across the whole story and the disclaimer at the front of the book by Burn's publishers and her attempt to stop this book being first published in 1984 show her continued desire to try and control events.

The matter of fact approach continues once the murders start. The inadequacies and key errors of the police investigation plus what was pretty close to luck over Sutcliffe's capture and the varying media responses before capture benefit greatly from this style. As many other reviewers have stated, this is easily the best book on the subject as a result.

Where I started to find the book failing is after the arrest of Sutcliffe. While he had no access to Sutcliffe, Burns seems to make little effort to explain or comment in these final stages, instead continuing with his factual approach. From the persons credited in the book,Burns seems to have had no help from the police involved or the members of the legal system and little from the media, but the falling apart of the original prosecution plea and the deeper impact of the media circus beyond the immediate family gets little comment. Instead we get numerous pages using the Court transcripts confirming that having had to do a U-turn on their case, the Crown prosecution team went into overkill attacking the inadequacy of the different psychiatrists who had examined Sutcliffe and whom they had previously relied on. Indeed, given Sutcliffe's state of mind (however finally categorized) and full confession, the outcome would be the same of a lifetime detention whether in prison or a mental institution.

The gaps in closing out the book show little effort to conclude on or critique the many strands developed. Also, Burns seems no closer to understanding Sutcliffe's personality or motivation despite his full immersion in the subject or is at least unwilling to make such comments. His subsequent death will sadly mean no updates will be forthcoming. Compared with the books of John Pearson on the Kray Twins for example while appreciating the masterpiece this book is, I found myself with too many question still open by the last page.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So much more than mere True Crime, 14 Nov. 2012
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Because this book is about the Yorkshire Ripper, it will always be categorised as 'true crime' - which is a shame, because it is so much more than that.

Gordon Burn looks at Peter Sutcliffe's whole life growing up in a typical Northern family. One of the first shocks the author delivers is that Peter, compared with the rest of the family, was actually considered the 'good boy' of the Sutcliffe clan when he was growing up. Unlike his sometimes wild brothers, Peter was the one that held down a respectable job, got married and bought a large house in a good area of Leeds. The shock amongst those who know him when such an outwardly respectable man turned out to be a monster, is a lesson to all of us that murderers don't always look like murderers.

While not putting forward any forceful theories as to how and why - Gordon Burn is aiming for a respectable biography here, not for sensationalist titillation - we do become aware throughout this book of the influences of Peter's repressive, hypocritical and demanding father, the battle of his wife Sonia against mental illness, and the deep seated misogyny of Yorkshire and society in general.

Knowing more about what breeds dreadful acts must never be used as mitigation - but perhaps we would all learn more about why society breeds occasional people like Sutcliffe if there were more people like Gordon to explore the subject intelligently, fairly and accessibly.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Concise, 29 Sept. 2003
This was the only account of the Yorkshire Ripper I could easily find. Compared to the books written regarding other British cases I found this to be a very well written almost idiots guide to the double life of Peter Sutcliffe. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the case at all - it had evidently taken 'In Cold Blood' as a platform for true crime writers and in that he has most certainly succeded.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Was it merely to satisfy his own ego?, 8 May 2015
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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Had the police not been overwhelmed by the amount of information they had coming in, if they’d had adequate up-to-date technological methods to deal with the wealth of information, the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe could have been caught well before his tally of deaths had reached eleven. Also holding them back were attitudes towards the women who were killed, especially in the early years. It was the death of 16 year-old Jayne Macdonald that brought the realisation that no woman was safe on the streets of the conurbations that were Leeds, Bingley, Bradford and Wakefield.

Gordon Burn’s book is the full story of Sutcliffe’s murderous career. His inadequacies, his marriage to Sonia, his insecurities with women and girls, Burn’s meticulous and searching prose is faultless. No one who lived through those years can forget the atmosphere of fear and worry that pervaded the dark streets. The account of the trial is a masterpiece of exploration in an attempt to name the nature of these crimes. Was Sutcliffe really a schizophrenic? Or was the jury right to claim these crimes as murders, pure and simple.

Burn does a splendid job of convincing us that the experts called in to determine his state of mind were completely fooled. We have the benefit of the full terrifying story now, but how to make sense of it? Of course, we can’t. Was he a clever fantasist who knew how to manipulate his interrogators? Was he really mentally ill, or just pretending? What was the sexual element in what he did? Was it merely to satisfy his own ego? Some twisted way of getting even with women as a whole? Did his inadequacies in the bedroom play a part? How do we get past the horror of what he did and try to find reason? What happened to Sutcliffe still lies buried in his own psyche. Burn has given us all the details, but somehow, the question of why he did what he did is a mystery hidden in the evil soul of the man. Are some crimes merely so wicked that they defy any explanation?
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