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Tuesday 13 June 2017

‘Jack the Ripper Case Closed’ by Gyles Brandreth

Published by Corsair,
22 June 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-47215232-9 (HB)

The identity of Jack the Ripper: one of the great mysteries in the history of crime – or is it? There's a rumour among true crime aficionados that the Metropolitan Police know exactly who he was, as did the police at the time; but since they couldn't prove it (or perhaps for some other reason undisclosed) the mystery has persisted for over a century.

And of course, more than one writer has been tempted to speculate. Gyles Brandreth is the latest; in Jack, the Ripper: Case Closed he sets two super-sleuths on the case, in the form of his fictionalized versions of Oscar Wilde and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who have already solved half a dozen murders in Victorian London.

Asked by the head of CID Melville MacNaghten (who really existed, and was, extraordinarily, Wilde's neighbour) to look into the case, the doughty pair set out on a quest which takes in lunatic asylums, a circus and the grim back streets of Whitechapel as well as some of London's more opulent venues. Whether the conclusion they reach has any basis in fact is a matter for only Mr Brandreth himself to know; certainly, Wilde's approach is as thorough and detailed as any police investigation ought to be, even though his dénouement is at odds with MacNaghten's own view.

But the chief joy of the book lies in the evocation of the larger-than-life characters, especially Wilde himself: flamboyant, verbose, witty and extravagant. By contrast Doyle is modest, down to earth and a man of simple tastes: very much a Watson to Wilde's Holmes, but no less sharply drawn for that. The large cast encompasses a host of notable historical figures, not the least of whom are the author J M Barrie, the actor Richard Mansfield and the notorious Marquess of Queensbury.

Gyles Brandreth is known for his love of words, which is evident here from the outset. His rendition of Wilde's use of language true to the image the playwright was keen to present: florid and well laced with the aphorisms for which he remains famous. But that's not all. Brandreth's own luxuriant style comes into its own to ensure a wide variety of backgrounds spring vividly to life, from grisly back alleys in peasouper fogs to the colour and noise of the Russian Circus, not forgetting an opium den and an emporium of 'curiosities'.

Whether or not Gyles Brandreth succeeds in closing the case against Jack the Ripper soon becomes immaterial. His version of events is plausible, colourful and above all highly entertaining. And by the end of the book, that's really all that matters.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Gyles Brandreth is a writer, broadcaster, former MP and Lord Commissioner of the Treasury, now Chancellor of the University of Chester and one of Britain's most sought-after award ceremony hosts and after-dinner speakers. A veteran of QI and Have I Got News For You, a reporter on The One Show and a regular on Just a Minute, his many books include The Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries and the No 1 best-seller: The 7 Secrets of Happiness.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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