Interpreting the Ripper Letters, M. J. Trow: Book Review

Interpreting the Ripper Letters by M. J. Trow offers an interesting background into the haunting case we all know, whilst analyzing the society and what could’ve been missed.

The plot:

In the Autumn of 1888, a series of grisly murders took place in Whitechapel in London’s East End, the Abyss, the Ghetto, the City of Eternal Night. The Whitechapel murderer, arguably the first of his kind, was never caught but the killings give rise to the best known pen-name in criminal history – Jack the Ripper.

The Whitechapel killer was terrifyingly real but Jack was the creation of Fleet Street, the gallows humour of a newspaper hack whose sole aim in life was to sell newspapers. And where the ‘Dear boss’ letter, with its ‘trade name’ signature led, thousands followed.

This book is not about the world’s first serial killer but about the sick, the perverted, the twisted souls who put pen to paper purporting to be the killer or suggested even more lurid ways in which he could be caught.

Innocent men were put in the frame by Victorian trouble-makers who would be perfectly at home with today’s Internet trolls, pointing cruel fingers, in almost perfect anonymity.

This book takes the lid off Victorian mindsets, exposing a dark and unnatural place as topsy-turvy as that inhabited by the killer himself.

A must read for anyone interested in Jack the Ripper

We all know of Jack the Ripper and the horrific crimes he committed, and if you’re intrigued by this era like I am, you’re likely to know that Fleet Street created the pen-name to sell newspapers. But this book goes much deeper, and analyses some of the hundreds (!!) of letters which the police and others received during the hunt for the killer.

It starts with an introduction, providing the reader with a timeline and background of the killings, offering the ‘canonical five’, but also two others which could have been linked. The book then carries on in a logical manner, with some quirky but weird content to follow. I’ve included a list of the chapters at the bottom of this page for you to see more.

Some of the content of the letters is just plain weird. There’s no other way – apart from psychotic – to describe it. It’s strange that people were writing such content and the influence the media had to play in what was published. It’s eye-opening to learn about the Victorian Society from this perspective, and there’s some shocking information (like only 4 letter-writers were caught!) which comes to light.

There are some parts to give you chills because they are so sinister and other parts which just make you shake your head and laugh from the unfathomable content.

You really get what you’re buying here. It’s an interpretation of some of the letters which could be linked to Jack the Ripper, told by a clearly well-researched and intelligent author, who pulls in other ideas to create an incredibly insightful read.

On a few occasions, I did find the author went off on a slight tangent, but it seemed to link back to the overall point. There were some paragraphs I thought ‘get on with it’, but it offered a well-rounded point of view, although some parts felt dry.

I would’ve liked a chapter about the leading suspects in the case, especially with the author’s knowledge, however I appreciate that this might not link back to the Ripper letters. There were a few comments which I didn’t think were backed up reasonably, but it’s all an interpretation and needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

A must read for anyone interested in Jack the Ripper, and I’m really keen to read Trow’s other literature based on his writing in this book.

Interpreting the Ripper Letters, M. J. Trow, RRP £19.99 (hardback); Book Depository 

Pages: 179

Publisher: Pen & Sword

Genre: Non-Fiction


Chapter 1 – Jack’s ‘Funny Little Games’

Chapter 2 – The Men Who Invented Jack the Ripper

Chapter 3 – ‘Letters written by him, but none by me’

Chapter 4 – ‘Two or Three Hands of Writing’

Chapter 5 – ‘Dear Boss’

Chapter 6 – ‘Yours Truly’

Chapter 7 – ‘O Have You Seen the Devil?’ or ‘The Proper Red Stuff’

Chapter 8 – ‘Surely the Lord is in this House’

Chapter 9 – ‘Carroty Curs’ and ‘Double-dyed Villains’

Chapter 10 – ‘You can’t catch me’

Chapter 11 – An American in London

Chapter 12 – The Women Who Did

Chapter 13 – ‘Just a few lines…’

Chapter 14 – The Signs of the Zodiac

Chapter 15 – The Lusk Letter

Chapter 16 – ‘Lewis Carroll was Jack the Ripper’ and ‘The Matrix is real – we’re living in it’.

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