Reviewed by: David Pickup
Author: Nicholas Connell (Crippen) and Colin Kendell (Ripper)
Publisher: Amberley Publishing
Price: £9.95 (Crippen) and £10.99 (Ripper)

I suppose if you are going to kill someone the priorities are: a) to kill someone b) to get away with it and possibly c) to generate a host of conspiracy theories. The anti-heroes of these books were partly successful in all respects. Crippen might have got away with it if he had played his hand a bit cooler; Jack the Ripper did get away with it. And certainly, they have both generated lots of speculation in print.

These are stories we think we know well and we wonder what more could be added. Both books are well researched and avoid sensationalism. You could use either as a guide to locate the places linked to the crimes. One of the authors holds guided tours of the streets, so you can follow in the footsteps of the victims.

Why do we find these stories fascinating? They were horrific crimes committed by monsters. But in a sense they are new to each generation that comes across them. There is a fascination for Victorian and early-20th century London, and most people like a good murder story, especially one wrapped up in foggy streets and mystery.

I found the chapter on Crippen’s solicitor Arthur Newton very interesting. He was described as ‘a public school boy, very good looking, with a charming manner and considerable gifts of advocacy based upon an extensive knowledge of the world rather than knowledge of law’. No problems there, you would think. Then you read that Newton captured Crippen as a client mainly for the publicity and as a way of cashing in on his story. Newton later forged a letter purportedly from Crippen which was published in a newspaper. He was eventually struck off and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for land fraud. Presumably an early example of outcomes-focused regulation.

The Jack the Ripper story is probably an early example of press overkill with elements of public hysteria and vigilantism thrown in. I wonder if the killer did not exist and the murders were wrongly assumed to have been committed by the same man. These tales continue both to fascinate and appal.

David Pickup is a partner at Aylesbury-based Pickup & Scott