“I prepared this narrative in 1924, at the time of writing my memoirs. I knew it could not be published during my lifetime, for reasons that will become clear to any future reader. It may be that it cannot be published for many years to come. However, in the fullness of time, I trust it will see the light of day. Any truth is better than indefinite doubt.” Arthur Conan Doyle
London. The year, 1894. The year that Jack the Ripper returns. This book is Arthur Conan Doyle’s account of the events in that year.
Summoned by Police Chief Macnaghten, Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle have been gathered to discuss some very important business; that of Jack the Ripper, the most notorious and gruesome murderer in England. Why these two? Well Macnaghten believes that they have the necessary qualities and qualifications to conduct the business and identify this brutal murder.
“By the simple expedient of helping us to identify the most celebrated, the most vile, the most notorious, the most repugnant, the most popular criminal of the age – Jack the Ripper.”
And so throughout the book, we follow Oscar and Arthur, as they set out to solve the unsolvable – the truth about the identity of Jack the Ripper.
“Jack the Ripper, Jack the Ripper, Jack the Ripper. Say it softly. Say it slowly. Say it as night falls. The name tells you everything you need to know.”
This is a wonderful, gripping detective story from two of the best loved Victorian writers, even today. Told through Arthur’s perspective, we get a real sense of the two characters and their personalities.
“It was the best of crimes, it was the worst of crimes…”
There are two main points which I love that this book focuses on.
1) Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality. Oscar Wilde has well been associated with being gay and was put on trial and imprisoned for it at least twice whilst alive. Although Gyles Brandreth tiptoes around the topic he does start to hint at it and the effect it has not only on Arthur but on Oscar’s wife and friends as well.
“We cannot command our love, but we can our actions.”
This account below from Arthur Conan Doyle depicts Oscar as a man happily married but experimenting and the idea of homosexuality wasn’t to be believed. Or was it? I think Arthur may have known more than he was letting on.
“Oscar was frequently away from home and I could see how easily he was beguiled by the company of young men…it had not – for a single moment – occurred to me that my friend was a man who might have carnal relations with another man.”
2) H.H. Holmes being Jack the Ripper. Now for anyone who doesn’t know who H.H.Holmes is then I would recommend having a read up on him. He was quite the character and was America’s version of Jack the Ripper in many ways. Holmes arrived in Chicago in 1886 and created a ‘Murder House’ which he claimed was a hotel. Many reports depict women entering the building but never leaving. He would pick on prostitutes. Upon inspection of the hotel, there were a combination of corridors and mazes that didn’t seem to go anywhere, gas chambers and trap doors, acid baths and even a crematorium.
So how about H.H. Holmes as Jack the Ripper? Well both were methodical and Holmes was a doctor which would account for the surgical skills in the murders. The letter that Jack the Ripper sent to the media was not typically English and would most likely be associated with an American hand and then there’s the particular damning sketch based on more than 13 testimonies from 1888, bearing a significant resemblance to Holmes. Could he be the murderer?
“You know there’s be a Holmes accused of being the Ripper?’
“…H.H. Holmes, the man who built his own ‘Murder Castle.'”
“The Reverend Dodgson proposed marriage to the real Alice in Wonderland when she was just a child. His interest in little girls is notorious – and regarded as unhealthy by some.”
But alas, the ending is not quite as good as expected and whilst it provided a fictional conclusion, I’m almost glad that the mystery of Jack the Ripper remains just that…a mystery.
“Of all ghosts the ghosts of our old loves are the worst.”
This is the first book by Gyles Brandreth that I’ve read yet I did enjoy it. Whilst not fast paced, it was an easy read but one that you couldn’t wait to pick back up! Whilst I wish Jack the Ripper was looked into more rather than their personal lives and friendship, it did give us a real insight into how Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle lived and how their friendship worked.
Find it on Amazon if this sounds like your type of novel!
Until next time,