I've read a majority or Patricia Cornwell's novels - loved some, liked some, not so crazy about some - so I was interested to see how she would address this case with her background. I was not disappointed. This book is well-written, and she uses her forensic and criminal justice knowledge, storytelling skills and talent for research very well. It is written in a methodical and suspenseful way and I was hard-pressed to put it down.
Another reviewer mentioned something similar to this: By the end of this book, the author has me 100% totally convinced that she has indeed solved this infamous mystery. But I later realized that perhaps it was her ability to tell a tale, and perhaps her ability to have the clues point in the direction she wanted them to that made this story so convincable. You WANT to believe she's right, she did such a great job with this book. But a year after it came out I happened across a documentary that convinced me this suspect was NOT Jack The Ripper...
So who knows who's right and who's wrong...I don't think we will ever truly know, but if you're intrigued by this mystery as I always have been, I highly recommend this book. It's a different take, contains a lot of information and was just plain interesting to read.
I commend Patricia Cornwell for the effort she put into this book, for the research she funded from her own pocket, and for the new forensic testing she performed on the Ripper letters. She wrote a very good book and for anyone who is fascinated by the enduring mystery that is Jack the Ripper, this is one more book to enjoy.
However, the book gave me the impression that Cornwell got the cart before the horse. Instead of looking at the facts objectively and formulating a conclusion, she started out with her conclusion (that Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper) and ever so gently bent her research to support that conclusion. She made a lot of assumptions, and failed to take seriously the fact that Sickert was out of the country during the time of the Ripper murders. It is true that Sickert was involved, that he did write a lot of Ripper letters, and that he depicted the murders in his art, but those things alone do not make him the killer.
For a more factual and objective look at all things Ripper, including a list of the most popular suspects, I recommend Paul Begg's Jack the Ripper: The Facts. It reads like a history book but is just what it claims to be, a book of pretty dry and unbiased facts. Begg suspects that the killer is a man named Kosminski, but as always, it is up to the reader to decide for themselves.
In all, Cornwell's book is good. It makes you think. It paints an interesting portrait of possibilities. But it is also not quite the 'case closed' argument that it claims to be, in my opinion at least. It's still a great read, and for that I still recommend it.
I have never read any of Patricia Cornwell's mystery books, but if they are as narratively compelling as Portrait of a Killer, they must surely be page-turners. She knows how to characterize a psychopath; how to illustrate a depraved and violent mind. But I'm not convinced that Walter Sickert, 19th century artists and minor celebrity, was such a mind, or that if he was, he was the infamous Jack the Ripper.
Cornwell is clearly meticulous in her research, but here she seems to have been meticulous with a purpose. She concluded that Sickert was the Ripper, and gathered the evidence that supported her theory, giving minimal attention to the evidence that opposes it. Her argument would have been more convincing had she elaborated on how she determined Sickert was the Ripper; what were the steps that lead her to that conclusion? As presented, her epiphany seems like a bolt from the blue.
Cornwell's main pieces of evidence raise many interesting questions about Sickert. He had a deformity due to botched surgery that made him impotent, his artwork is largely misogynistic, many of the Ripper letters were written with artists' tools. All of these things indicate that he may have been a repressed and violent man, but not that he was Jack the Ripper. But Cornwell's case with these points makes fascinating reading. Her more tangible, physical proof is less fascinating. The only point in the book where my eyes began to cross was her description of different watermarks in different 19th century stationary that Sickert and others used. More interestingly, several investigators are trying to get DNA evidence from the envelopes and stamps on the Ripper letters, but again, the most this could prove would be that Sickert (and many other pranksters) liked to bait the police.
Still, Cornwell presents a richly detailed portrayal of a unique and disturbing individual. I had never heard of Sickert before reading Portrait, and I can see how he and his artwork would capture the imagination. Sickert, from Cornwell's research, seems to have been a dark and complicated man. And the London of his time was undeniably a dark and complicated place. It was an intriguing read, and I enjoyed hearing Cornwell's argument although I remain unconvinced.
First and only book I've read by this author; i enjoyed it very much. Interesting theories on who Jack the Ripper really was.
I couldn't put this book down and the intelligent theory does prove who the killer is.
~Le Loup Garou