They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper
by Bruce Robinson
I sincerely hope that Bruce Robinson has invested in a world class home security system. I would also highly recommend that he take out a generous life insurance policy, because after reading his incendiary book, They All Love Jack, I genuinely fear for his life. Even if Jack the Ripper were still prowling the streets today, I think Robinson would be in more danger from the Ripperologists he tears to shreds than the psychotic serial killer he seeks to unveil. I can honestly say that I was deeply shocked, surprised, and sometimes truly offended by this book...and that I loved every minute of it.
We all know the story of Jack the Ripper, stalking the gas-lit streets of Whitechapel in 1888, murdering and mutilating prostitutes (and if you don't know about it, you should!), and escaping detection by the police to this very day. 'Ripperology', the study of these murders, has become a huge phenomenon in the last 20 years, and there are hundreds of books, magazines, documentaries and websites dedicated to investigation of the crimes and the world-wide desire to know who Jack the Ripper really was. This is my first review of a book on this topic, but I have read dozens of books about it and even subscribe to two different publications on the subject. I know the dates and grisly details of all the murders and have even dabbled in my own amateur investigations. I am not revealing this to impress anyone (trust me, I know full well that this usually has the opposite effect!) but to show my familiarity with Ripperology publications in order to demonstrate just how extraordinary They All Love Jack is.
I began the book very skeptical, as Robinson is a screenwriter and fiction author, and does not instantly come across as very scholarly. It didn't exactly put me at ease when he ended his introduction with: "I'm going to bust your arse, Jack." By page 10 he had already used the words "fuck", "fart", and "tits" multiple times. He does not reach the thesis of his book until page 100, and only introduces his suspect over 300 pages in. Yet even just a few pages in I was hooked, fascinated. Robinson's writing is not academic, it is conversational...and it is ANGRY. His voice throughout the entire book is biting and sarcastic, laced with a genuine rage toward Victorian morality and the corrupt justice system that jumped off the page and hit me like a slap in the face. But after my shock subsided, I began to admire him for his honesty and his fearlessness. I would be cowering in a corner somewhere if I had publicly said the things he said. He scorns Ripperology, rips it apart as surely as Jack the Ripper tore apart his victims. He calls it "blind and constipated", and compares Ripperologists to "shagged-out seagulls". The primary victim of his hatred is Mr. Philip Sugden, and I can't help but give credit to Robinson's courage; some of his criticisms have merit, but he has to be aware that he has made himself a target for murder. I am only half-joking. It's really, really mean.
Michael Maybrick, Robinson's contender for Jack the Ripper.
Robinson's theory is a novel one, and one that to my knowledge has never been seriously pursued until now. He believes Jack the Ripper was really Michael Maybrick, brother to James Maybrick (the subject of the 'diary' of Jack the Ripper), and that the police and higher authorities knew who he was but were forced to protect him because of their shared Freemason connections. He also believes that just about every single letter sent to the police from Jack the Ripper was actually from the killer, when all Ripperologists declare them hoaxes. This is so far outside the norm, so fantastic in its conspiracy theory, that I was amazed to find myself persuaded. Robinson has clearly done his research (it took him 12 years to write this book), and the connections he illustrates between the letters, the people involved, and the frankly obvious cover-ups are mind-blowing and very well documented.
Robinson delves into the "Maybrick Mystery", during which James Maybrick's young American wife was charged with the death penalty for murdering her husband, and which even at the time was considered to be one of the grossest miscarriages of justice England had ever witnessed. Maybrick was a self-admitted arsenic addict, even taking the occasional hit of strychnine (nothing like a delicious fatal poison to wind down after a long day of cotton brokering). I won't go into all the details but basically there is no way Florence Maybrick was guilty, and all too clear that her trial, as well as the charges against her, were crooked and fixed. I have to say it gave me a rush of excitement to read Robinson's discussion of the case, because I was really obsessed with it during my college years. I remember days spent in the basement of the UW library, reading 100+ year old documents about it on microfiche, desperately trying to solve the mystery. And I was not disappointed by the theory Robinson posed.
I will warn you of a few things. They All Love Jack is enormous. I couldn't even hold it in one hand (
that's what she...). Also, Bruce Robinson may go down in history as the least tactful person who has ever gotten a book published. At various times, and with no apparent reason, he calls the victims of these gruesome murders "toothless, half-drunk hags", "a forty-seven year old nothing", and "just another bit of trash in the ugly East End rain". He calls King Edward VII "Fat Ed". Ouch, go easy on old Edward...he ate to fill a void inside himself; you wouldn't blame him if you had read about his childhood! Then came a sentence so unexpected and horrifyingly non-PC that I literally could not believe it was allowed in print: "He may have kissed her missing lips, the lips he owned, savouring her bloody skull, masturbating, as he said he did, before bidding his whore-bitch carcass adieu". WOW. That is NOT normal.
However, if you get past Robinson's dramatic use of shock value (which I admit he is very good at!), there is a lot of thoughtful and important scholarship in this book. It is logical, well-defended, innovative, and daring. He goes where no Ripperologist has gone before, and then he burns all bridges that might link him to them. His theories are surprisingly persuasive, his reasoning sound, and his use of invective scathing and colorful. They All Love Jack was a breath of fresh air, something so different from any other book on Jack the Ripper I have ever read, and much appreciated for that. In the end, I was left with many questions on Robinson's theory, and the feeling that many of the loose ends were not tied up as neatly as I would have liked. But that just makes me want to ask him questions and learn more, rather than discounting his theory. Ultimately I am not 100% convinced that he is right, but his theory is intriguing and persuasive, and very deserving of being seriously considered.
There is a slight possibility that his confident and aggressive writing style has something to do with my opinion, giving me a subconscious fear of being on his bad side and getting it as bad as Sugden got it...but mostly I just loved the book and find myself unable to stop thinking about it. Godspeed, Mr. Robinson...I admire your work and truly hope you live to write another day.