on 5 August 2015
“Here, life was lived – if living isn’t a misonmer for what was in truth no more than survival…” Begg and Bennett, Jack the Ripper CSI: Whitechapel
It seems wrong to describe a book on such a grim subject as beautiful, especially when there is some of the most horrifyingly brutal crime scene photographs contained within these pages. But, if truth be told, the 30 new CGI artworks of the East End of London, in 1888, are breathtakingly detailed and beautifully rendered. This is what truly sets apart Jack the Ripper CSI: Whitechapel from other books that simply detail the murders of several prostitutes that birthed a fear-provoking phenomenon.
The book is written by Paul Begg and John Bennett, both respected authorities on the Whitechapel murders with several articles to their name. Begg authored a recent documentary screened in the UK on Channel-5, which was one of the better looks (compared to many) at the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders. Bennett is known for his tours, although I cannot comment on those as I haven’t attended one done by him.
CSI: Whitechapel attempts to re-create an accurate presentation of the East End London as it was during the infamous ‘Whitechapel Murders’. This is basically from the murder of Emma Smith to Mary Kelly, as well as later scares. In a sense, the book creates an eerie guided tour through the streets the miscreant murderer, dubbed Jack the Ripper, would have stalked. Along with the CGI illustrations, there are detailed bespoke maps, views of streets then and now, as well as cultural information and illustrations of a place, and time, where people actually wouldn’t venture, in tours, whereas they would the hot, dangerous, slums of British Imperial India.
The first chapter begins with a look at the East End distinctly as an individual place, and then by and large to London. The book has its main text, within a chapter, and then (often very detailed) side notes that discuss road layouts, the structural formation and rules of the lodging houses, while also explaining the emergence of a district through details on the matchstick girls’ strikes, et cetera.
From here the authors take a forensically solid, and historically factual, looks at the murders of Emma Smith; Martha Tabram; then the "canonical five" Mary Ann (Polly) Nicholas; Annie Chapam; Elizabeth Stride; Catherine Eddows; Mary Jane Kelly; to the latter scares, such as Alice McKenzie.
In addition, there are chapters at the reaction the murders caused, and the issues encountered by the police investigation, and then the overall search for Jack suspects. This is a succinct chapter, and includes most of the modern attempts to solve the mystery and suspects – serious and fanciful, including the ‘diary of’ James Maybrick, to Patricia Cornwell’s bizarre, self-funded ($6 million), investigation into the painter, Walter Sickert.
The text is factual and non-sensationalist. It’s not quite dissertation level, but there is a freshing and noted impartiality that many books on this subject lack. Anyone can read this, whatever your general level of expertise. As such, you get the facts, and observational analysis, which can sometimes require several books and copious note taking just to find out stringent facts about the yard Annie Chapman was found in, so all kudos to Begg and Bennett in giving this information clearly.
It is the illustrations that raise this book over others in a saturated genre. Begg and Bennett must have worked diligently with the artist, Jaakko Luukanen, to create such realistic and evocative scenes. The level of detail is quite remarkable, from cracks and moss in bricks, to the weather damaged posters littered on walls. Each murder is accompanied by a street map, which shows the site of the murder, and then places of interest (witness accounts, lodges of other victims) and so on. It’s an engrossing visual experience and one that will bring clarity, I think, to those interested.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t just recommend this book to people interested in the case; this book would interest people interested in police and social history, the East End, to general crime. On a side note, this book does contain the crime scene and morturay photographs (so it's not suitable to the very young).