The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper

The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper
James Carnac
Reviewed by Nick Rennison
Transworld
Thu, 19/01/2012
9780593068205
£16.99

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.

Comments

robert.shepherd@sky.com's picture

True or false

Interesting, the comments about this book. I don't claim to be a 'Ripperologist' but having read most literature about Jack the Ripper, most of which focuses on outlandish theories either involving royalty, the Queen's physician, artists and so on, I prefer to believe the simpler theories that he was an ordinary guy, albeit mentally disturbed, who took the opportunity to commit murder.

I found the above book to be fascinating and although written like a novel (many autobiographies are by the way) the narrative seems to be completely believable. 'Carnac's' reasons do seem plausible enough. Why should his reasons have to be psychologically complex for them to be true? For example it's not that he disliked prostitutes but that he saw them as an element of society that were less likely to be missed than others and therefore were the safest target for him to vent his blood lust.

I'm not saying that I necessarily believe Carnac to be the Ripper, but the fact remains that these murders were very real, they were probably committed by the same man, the chances are that this man was not well known in the society of the day and finally, he disappeared without trace after 1888. Bearing these thoughts in mind, maybe, just maybe whoever wrote at least the first and second parts of this manuscript, whether his name was Carnac or not...was indeed the Whitechapel murderer.

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