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Portrait Of A Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed Paperback – 1 Sep 2003
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Few books receive the kind of pre-publicity that Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper--Case Closed generated. Some of it was good, some of it not so good, but all was calculated to get reader interest running at fever pitch. In fact, Patricia Cornwell's actions in trying to solve the world's most famous serial-killer mystery (just who was Jack the Ripper?) have been highly controversial, but since when has controversy undercut interest in a book? And who better than a writer whose name is synonymous with the scientific solving of crime to tackle London's legendary mass murderer?
Using the methods of her character Kay Scarpetta, Cornwell's forensic investigation has pointed the bloody finger of guilt at a figure who has long figured prominently in the Ripper files. The investigation here is an intriguing mix of the personal and the professional: as well as orchestrating a Scarpetta-like search for the identity of the Ripper, Cornwell involves several very personal connections with the task she has set herself, and this is no dry thesis. Needless to say, the more gruesome aspects of this famously grisly case give no pause to a woman who has taken us into the grimmer aspects of forensics with her unsqueamish protagonist, and we are spared no details here (but who would purchase Portrait of a Killer if they had delicate sensibilities?). The arguments here are intelligently marshalled, and laid out with the precision and attention to detail of Cornwell's novels.
In order to prove her thesis, Cornwell purchased (and made tests on) some great works of art, but the tale of how she arrived at her highly contentious conclusions is quite as fascinating as one of the Scarpetta books. You may not agree with her, but you will not put this book down. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
An excellent criminal case-study and a fine account of Victorian life. (Big Issue)
She has brought so much circumstantial evidence to bear that only a genuine posthumous confession by someone else will now be enough to clear Sickert's name. (Daily Mail)
The resultant book is absorbing ... Cornwell has written a great account of the Ripper era. (Time Out)
Fascinating. (Sunday Express)
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In brief, Patricia Cornwell hears about Walter Sickert and his possible connection to the Whitechapel Murders. Using her experience as a novelist, she cobbles together a preposterously and painfully. thin case.
Let's cross examine the first couple of dozen pages, Ms Cornwell:
Exhibit A: you conflate fact, opinion and assertion in a way that a modestly talented GCSE English student could take apart and hand back to her in a cup.
Exhibit B: You indulge in some pretty obvious logical fallacies. For example, you ask us to believe on absoluetly no evidence whatsoever that Sickert would disguise himself as a soldier, with or without an accomplice that is inexplicably ignored, to commit the first murder. You then tell us that it is "bizarre and absurd" to think the murderer used two knives.
Exhibit C: some of the evidence is circumstantial beyond belief. Sickert's American friend, Whistler, laughed out loud sometimes. The Ripper wrote "ha! ha! ha!" in some of his letters. Therefore Sickert is the Ripper.
Exhibit D: for someone who has experience in forensics, you play fast and loose with forensic evidence. The one piece of substance you have, the mitochondrial DNA obtained from some of the Ripper letters, is found in only 1% of the population. Even assuming the DNA sample is good enough to give a valid result (something you skirt around) and that the Ripper wrote those letters, the population of London was close on 9,000,000. If we ignore the family groups and assume an even genetic distribution, that still leaves 90,000 people who match. Try and use that in court, Ms Cornwell.
Exhibit E: you might know about writing crime novels but you get a Z- for history. Sickert died in 1942 so, no, there isn't any video footage of him. Weather forecasting in 1888 couldn't tell us what time a fog was going to lift in a particular part of a particular city. Victorian paintings are full of women in peril and early nineteenth century novels have women in all kinds of ugly, sadistic, perverted situations. And so on...
If we skip to the last few pages of the book we have
Exhibit F: There were brutal murders after the Whitechapel killings. There were brutal murders before the Whitechapel killings. Picking the post-Ripper killings that suit you is not evidence, it's cherry picking.
Exhibit G: Sunderland is a fair way away from London. Get a map. It wasn't a day trip back then.
Exhibit H: You imply that Sickert killed someone in Britain while he was abroad. Sloppy editing? Or complete disregard for the readers' attention span?
I can't even be bothered to keep up this style of writing.
The author is guilty of tosh in the first degree. Don't bother with this book, there are plenty of others that are far far better.
So, what did I like about it? A new potential killer thrown into the mix, as for me, I have never heard Walter mentioned as a suspect let alone outright named as the killer. Cornwell not only puts forward this chap as the absolute killer, she debunks the idea of some of the other suspects listed previously and explains why they couldn't be the killer. The book gives a good bit of evidence and recount of the crimes, she also puts in many murders that she believes was the Rippers work too again I hadn't heard of these ones.
What didn't I like, the book says case closed, she has found the killer, I disagree. She makes a good case putting forward a new suspect but so much is could have, points to, may have been. This is not definitive proof and it is almost arrogant to claim you are the absolute when so much of the findings are possibles, could be and if he was or if he did.
Regardless, it is an interesting read, the book has photographs of the victims and of some of the correspondence sent in from the Ripper. Some of the details of the crimes and horrors carried out to the bodies is for tough and gorey reading so caution if you have issue reading details like that. Overall, whether you agree with Cornwell or not, I would say you would enjoy it or find it interesting for discussion if you have an interest or opinion on one of the oldest unsolved crimes, 3/5 for me this time.
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