Allegedly, this is the work of a gentleman named James Willoughby Carnac, otherwise unknown to history, who confesses to being the infamous murderer known as Jack the Ripper. From old age in the 1920s, Carnac looks back on his career and exults in his bloody activities in Whitechapel 40 years earlier. He provides details of the murders, although nothing in his story strikes me as information that couldn’t be gathered from wide-ranging reading on the Ripper case.
So how should this odd but fascinating volume be categorised?
The publishers are eager to have it shelved in the ‘Biography’ section of bookshops or, perhaps, under the heading of ‘True Crime’. It is a memoir which was recently found amongst the rediscovered papers of the writer S. G. Hulme Beaman who died in 1932.
My own experience of inventing connections between the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes for a spoof biography of the latter suggests that the research to create one is time-consuming but perfectly possible. Carnac also suggests a motivation for his own deeds, although it’s not exactly psychologically complex. Apparently, he liked blood and knives and didn’t like prostitutes. Clearly startling levels of self-knowledge were not necessary to come up with that theory.
Surely, the overwhelming likelihood is that The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper is fiction. It reads like a novel, it has the narrative shape of a novel and its ironic conclusion smacks entirely of fiction rather than real life. Probably the author was Hulme Beaman, although it was an uncharacteristic work for a children’s writer best known as the creator of Larry the Lamb and Toytown. Whoever wrote it did a good job.
Carnac, gloating over his own crimes or hugging himself with glee over his own cleverness in evading detection, is a memorable creation of whom any novelist might be proud. ‘I have heard,’ he writes in his preface to his supposed memoir, ‘that a story about Jack the Ripper need never remain unsold.’ I’m sure that this one won’t remain unsold but I’m equally sure that it is much more likely to be a novel than an autobiography.