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24343739I have taken quite a while to get round to writing about They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper because it’s really hard to know quite where to start. To help set some context I was going to quote from the blurb on the book’s Amazon page but I got quite cross reading the thing because it makes some claims (especially about the scholarship involved) that I don’t think really hold up. It’s basically a bonkers book.

What’s it all about?

So Bruce Robinson, former actor and most notably director of Withnail and I, has spent at least fifteen years researching the case of Jack the Ripper and this enormous book is the result of his labours. And it really is a huge thing so I’m glad I had the Kindle version (you may have read in one of my Sunday Salon posts that I saw this in a book shop teetering on the edge of a shelf, only just managing not to plummet to the floor due to its sheer size). Robinson has a preferred suspect and his book is all about proving he’s right, why the guy did it and how he managed not to get caught.

Why did I want to read it?

I will put my hand up and admit that I’ve long been fascinated by Jack the Ripper, though I am well aware that it is all petty lurid stuff. I’ve read enough to be clear that a lot of the ‘facts’ out there are just theories, and some of those are fairly crackpot. So I was interested to see what this latest one would reveal. Also it was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction which gave it a certain additional interest.

What did I think of it?

Well. I’ve always been a great believer in the cock-up rather than the conspiracy theory of history. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think plots and conspiracies can happen; they manifestly have, and some of have been very successful. But to my mind those are the exceptions, and so when it became clear right from the very beginning of this book that the identity of Jack the Ripper was protected by a consipracy that is so enormous that it would collapse under its own weight I felt a familiar sinking feeling.

Robinson identifies the Ripper as Michael Maybrick, a surname that may be familiar to some of you because of the Ripper diaries that were floating around some years ago where James Maybrick was outed as (potentially) being Jack, having been (allegedly) murdered by his wife. The diaries were eventually discredited, but the theory here is that Michael was Jack, murdered his brother and set him up to be the Ripper, and because he was that kind of guy, framed his hated sister-in-law Florence for the killing, with the collusion of the police and the judiciary, because *gasp* Freemasonry.

Yes, it’s the Freemasons what done it, or at least covered it all up. Knew who it was all along etc. and sacrificed the truth to protect the establishment.

I don’t think this holds up because it simply doesn’t make sense, and there is a definite air of selecting material to support a theory and ignoring the bits that don’t fit. Perhaps the Ripper sections on their own, though fairly potty, make some sort of case, but the mashing together with the Florence Maybrick case (which was a clear miscarriage of justice and Robinson is right to be angry about it), just doesn’t work IMHO.

The book is exhausting to read because the author is so angry about everything; it felt like the man was writing the whole thing with his CAPS lock on. It was like being shouted at constantly. His obsessions and prejudices shine through and his language is crude and at times inappropriate to my mind, and that really jars. There were a number of “wow – did he really just say that” moments

But…..

Having said all that, it’s also quite entertaining – even funny in places – and he makes some very good points about the Ripperology industry. BI certainly never consdered abandoning the book at any point. But having dumped all this information and conspiracy theory stuff on his readers, the whole thing gets a bit rushed and then. Just. Stops. A bit like Jack the Ripper himself.

A real oddity of a book.

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Last of the Spirits frontWhat’s it all about?

Sam and his sister Lizzie live on the streets of Victorian London, and on a freezing Christmas Eve beg for money from a wealthy Ebenezer Scrooge who rebuffs them nastily, filling Sam with anger and a desire for revenge.

Later that night they are huddling together for warmth in a cemetery when they see a ghost rising from a grave and heading towards Scrooge’s home. And in that way they become witnesses to the events of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

Why did I want to read it?

I am a great fan of Chris Priestley’s works which I’ve been reading over a number of years. This is the latest in his re-tellings of well-known stores for younger readers (the others are Mister Creecher and The Dead Men Stood Together). And as I’ve said on my Screen God blog I love A Christmas Carol, so reading The Last of the Spirits was a no-brainer.

What did I think about it?

I just loved this beautifully written short book. I have always enjoyed stories that are written from the perspective of an onlooker to major events (the two that spring most easily to mind are Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Hamlet)) and although Sam and Lizzie become direct participants in Scrooge’s story they fit into that trend very well, of an observer illuminating a well-known story by presenting it from a different point of view. And of course given the story we’re watching here it has a happy ending.

Just lovely and will become a regular read for Christmas in the future.

19561902What year are we in? The Laws of Murder is set in 1876.

What is Lenox’s case?

One of Lenox’s friends has been shot in Regent’s Park and the murder may be tied to an aristocratic ne’er-do-well that Lenox has been after for many years. In helping Scotland Yard work the case (after a short period of some estrangement) it becomes clear that matters are not what they seem. At all.

What did I learn about that I didn’t know before?

Quite a bit about mourning dress and Victorian funerals and the business of booking fixed berths on ships to allow cargo to be transported abroad (regardless of what that cargo might be). No questions asked. ‘Nuff said.

What’s happening in Lenox’s personal life?

Lenox has given up his seat in Parliament and has set up a professional detective agency with Dallington and two other colleagues (identified at the end of the last book but not mentioned here by name because *spoilers*) and it’s all taking a while to settle down. Dallington may be in love but is it reciprocated? All the McConnell and Lenox domestic arrangements are happy and harmonious. We see a bit of the background to the lives of Scotland Yard policemen and not all of it is edifying.

Did I enjoy it?

I did enjoy it very much. Like the previous books in the series it is an easy and likeable read, comfortable in a good way as you revisit characters you’ve watched develop over time. Seeing rich people behave badly is always a pleasure (and why I have always preferred Dallas to Eastenders) and the crime(s) and the purpose behind them were ingenious and well thought through. And nice to see that the new detective agency has its premises in Chancery Lane where my old employer used to be based.

However, I shall never look at convents again in quite the same way.

An Old BetrayalWhat year are we in? An Old Betrayal is set in 1875

What is Lenox’s case?

Lord John Dallington is ill and asks Lenox to help him with a case by meeting a potential client at Charing Cross station. However, the meeting doesn’t take place as planned and also seems to be connected with the death of a quiet and retiring country gentleman. As Lenox works with Dallington and Scotland Yard it becomes clear that a deeper and more sinister plot is afoot, one that might strike at the monarchy itself.

Apologies for the burst of melodrama there 🙂

What did I learn about that I didn’t know before?

Not a huge amount, though the way that people try to get access to Queen Victoria is quite interesting, and the murkiness of British politics is reinforced once again.

What’s happening in Lenox’s personal life?

Dallington is quite ill but struggling on, McConnell and his wife Toto appear to be having marital problems, there is a rival detective agency involved run by *gasp* a woman, and Lenox looks like he’s finally going to have to decide whether he priers politics or detection.

Did I enjoy it?

Huge fun. More complex in some ways than the others in the series and clearly meant to be a game changer. Alway good to have Queen Victoria pop up in her indomitable fashion and the motivation for the crimes is both obscure and mildly gothic. Looking forward to seeing where the series will go from her. Next volume is already pre-ordered.

IMG_0131What year are we in? A Death in the Small Hours is set in 1874

What is Lenox’s case?

Lenox has been given the honour of making the first speech at the new Parliamentary session and he is advised to take himself out of London to have quiet time in which to write the speech and otherwise prepare. It just so happens that his Uncle Freddie had asked him and his family to stay at his home in Somerset and investigate a spate of incidents of vandalism in the local village. There is of course a murder, that of a young police constable, and investigating this uncovers a criminal conspiracy.

What did I learn about that I didn’t know before?

Not much new in this novel, though interesting to see how Lenox’s uncle undertakes his duties as a local JP, but it is mostly the usual village life sort of stuff, though very well done of course.

What’s happening in Lenox’s personal life?

Doting on his daughter and building his career are the main preoccupations for Lenox, though it’s clear he relishes the opportunity to get involved in detection again.

Did I enjoy it?

Yes, another pleasurable entry in the series. The subplots all weave together very nicely both in terms of the crimes committed and the developments within Lenox’s own family. The Parliamentary stuff is still fascinating.

IMG_0130What year are we in? A Burial at Sea is set in 1873

What is Lenox’s case?

Lenox is a rising star in Parliament and has been asked by his brother and other influential politicians to undertake a mission to Egypt, ostensibly to discuss how Britain might become more involved in the Suez Canal, but actually to meet an informant who can tell him whether the French government knows the identities of British spies in their country and has been bumping them off. While on his way aboard HMS Lucy he has to investigate a number of gruesome murders and a stop a potential mutiny.

What did I learn about that I didn’t know before?

I learned a lot of genuinely interesting stuff about the Victorian navy and our view of diplomacy (in relation to the French at least) at that time. Lots of research clearly went into writing this book but it never appears heavy-handed.

What’s happening in Lenox’s personal life?

Lenox and Lady Jane are expecting a baby. Lenox’s nephew Teddy has joined HMS Lucy as a member of the crew.

Did I enjoy it?

I think this may have been my favourite of the four, partly because of the setting on board ship which was both unusual and interesting but also because of the gruesome nature of the murders and the motivation of the killer which is rather more complex than it at first appears. The French are suitably dastardly which is always good fun. Recommended this to the Book God who has a great interest in the British Navy and it seems to have been a hit so far.

9780312616953After the success of my binge-read of the Maisie Dobbs books (which I talk about here and here) I decided to do it again, this time with the series of novels about aristocrat, MP and private detective Charles Lenox, set in London in the late 1860s and early 1870s and written by the American author Charles Finch. Like Maisie, Lenox is a very engaging character whose personal life forms a backdrop to and often becomes closely entwined with the cases he investigates.

The main characters alongside Lenox are his best female friend and now wife Lady Jane, his best male friend and useful medical man Thomas McConnell, and his former protege Lord John Dallington. There are now seven books in the series with an eighth coming out later this year, and I read the most recent four in a row in less than a week.

Firstly – A Stranger in Mayfair

What is Lenox’s case?

A fellow MP asks Lenox to look into the murder of his footman who has been beaten to death an alleyway behind the house n which he worked, and it’s clear that all is not what it seems, either in the household itself or the young man’s personal life.

What did I learn about that I didn’t know before?

Quite a bit about the sport of boxing and how a new MP is inducted into the life of Parliament.

What’s happening in Lenox’s personal life?

Newly married, starting his career as an MP, trying to settle down into his new life and leave all that sleuthing nonsense behind.

Did I enjoy it?

Yes I did, a good story to ease myself back into the series after a break of some time, I guessed part of the reason for the murder but not the perpetrator.

IMG_0001What’s it all about?

In The Executioner’s Heart we are dropped into an alternative steampunk Victorian world where Scotland Yard is called in to a series of murders The victims have had their chests cracked open and their hearts removed, and because there is a ritual element to the deaths the head of the investigation, Sir Charles Bainbridge, calls in Sir Maurice Newbury and his assistant Veronica Hobbes, who specialise in dealing with the supernatural in a scientific manner.

It quickly becomes clear that the legendary killer The Executioner is involved, but what’s the motive and why take the hearts?

Why did I want to read it?

I’m not sure where I came across this book but I know one of the attractions, besides the storyline (which let’s face it is quite cool) is the very lovely cover.

What did I think of it?

One chapter in I realised that this was not the first in the series of books about Newbury and Hobbes (it is in fact the fourth novel and there is also a book of short stories) but by then I was hooked and decided to continue (although pleasingly I realise that we have the first two on our shelves already – they belong to the Book God). I enjoyed it. It has a very nasty killer whose back story we come to learn as the plot unfolds, it has plotting and intrigue and spies and rituals and cults and action sequences and Queen Victoria is a totally monstrous figure, and of course it has a cliffhanger. Quite a big cliffhanger actually, will be interesting to see how it works out in the next novel which I think comes out this summer.

Great fun.

UPDATED due to appalling proofreading, dreadful spelling and the lack of closing bracket. Sloppy work if you ask me.

Scan 38What’s it all about?

Mayhem is set in the height of the Jack the Ripper murders, but body parts found at New Scotland Yard are definitely the work of a different killer, no matter how much the authorities wish it wasn’t. Thomas Bond is the police surgeon working on both cases, and as he delves into the murders he begins to suspect that something more supernatural than a rampaging serial killer is at work in London.

Why did I want to read it?

Serial killers, Jack the Ripper, Victorian London, what’s not to like? Plus although I had a couple of her e-books I hadn’t read any of Sarah Pinborough’s books and wanted to give her a try, partly due to the subject matter and partly because she is great fun to follow on Twitter (there’s that word again).

What did I think of it?

I liked it a great deal. It was a very interesting experience reading it so soon after Drood (reviewed earlier) as there are some similarities in the use of the supernatural, the main character’s tendency to dabble in drugs, the mix of real and fictional characters and events. I thought this was much more successful; I liked Thomas Bond very much and found his struggle with opium and the effect it had on him much more sympathetic, as were the domestic elements in the story contrasting with the grimness of the crimes being investigated. But I don’t want to dwell too much on comparisons with someone else’s work, this is a really good novel.

Conclusion

Recommended. I’m going to be searching out more of Sarah Pinborough’s work, although disappointed that the next volume in this series won’t be published until 2015.

This was a read for RIP VIII

RIP8main200So it’s September tomorrow and that means the start of one of my favourite blogging event’s, Carl’s RIP VIII and the opportunity to read scary and thrilling stuff along with lots of other members of the book blogging community.

As is traditional I have pulled together a book list out of which I hope to be able to meet Peril the Second, where I need to read four books that fit the description of perilous. I’d love to be able to read them all, but we’ll see how that goes.

My list is (in no particular order):rip8peril2nd

A pretty good selection I think, and I’m looking forward to all of them.

rip8perilonscreenI may also take part in Peril on the Screen but no real plans on what that might involve, though it is really about time I re-watched one of my Desert Island Films, Son of Frankenstein with *sigh* Basil Rathbone.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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