Title: Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Narrator: Lorelei King
Publication date: 1 May 2012
Length: 12 hours 44 minutes
Genre: True Crime / Non-fiction
Age group: Adult
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Buy it: AudioGO
Between August and November 1888 at least seven women were murdered in Whitechapel. The gruesome nature of their deaths caused panic and fear for months in the east end, and gave rise to the sobriquet which was to become shorthand for a serial killer – Jack the Ripper.
For over a hundred years the identity of the murders have remained among one of the world’s greatest unsolved crimes, and a wealth of theories have been posited which have pointed the finger at royalty, a barber, a doctor, a woman and an artist. Using her formidable range of forensic and technical skills, Patricia Cornwell has applied the rigorous discipline of twenty-first-century police investigation to the extant material, and here presents the hard evidence that the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders was the world-famous artist, Walter Sickert.
By using techniques unknown in the late Victorian era, Patricia Cornwell has exposed Sickert as the author of the infamous Ripper letters to the Metropolitan Police. Her detailed analysis of his paintings shows how his art continually depicted his horrific mutilation of his victims, and her examination of this man’s birth defects, the consequent genital surgical interventions and their effects on his upbringing present a casebook example of how a psychopathic killer is created.
With her knowledge of criminal investigation and her consummate skills as a best-selling writer, Patricia Cornwell has produced a book which is as compelling as it is authentic and pays due respect to the people whose early deaths spawned one of the twentieth century’s least attractive entertainment industries – those of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddows, Mary Kelly and others.
Patricia Cornwell’s Portrait of a Killer was actually the very first audiobook I’ve ever listened to and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. On top of that, it was also the very first book I’ve read (well, listened to) from the true crime genre. I’m a huge fan of crime fiction but true crime is something I’ve never tried before and I’m glad I did now.
The thing I liked the most about this particular edition is narration. For me, a good narrator is crucial. Every time I decided to give audiobooks a try in the past I was always put off by the reader’s voice, accent, the speed of narration, or the lack of it and had to stop listening to them only after a few chapters. In this case, however, I think Lorelei King was a brilliant choice for Cornwell’s story and made the book very easy to listen to.
As for the story itself, I’m still in two minds about what to think of it. On the one hand, I loved the author’s description of psychopaths in general. Cornwell dedicates almost an entire chapter to this topic and it was by far my favourite. She gives us a detailed image of psychopaths’ personalities (including the fact that even people who are closest to them may not realize they are monsters, something I found rather creepy), discusses what makes a psychopath and whether it’s a genetic trait or not. She also gives us a nice, overall view of Victorian England, how women were treated at that time, what living conditions were like – paying particular attention to the urban poor and slum areas – and so on. We also hear quite a lot about the nineteenth century police force and how incompetent they were in every way, which again I really enjoyed.
On the other hand, it wasn’t really what I expected the book to be. When I first came across this novel, I thought it would tell us some details about the Ripper murders, the victims, as well as some of the possible suspects and their personalities. All of which Cornwell does deal with in her book, but not in the way I’d expected. The entire book focuses on a nineteenth century English painter – Walter Sickert – whom the author believes to be the famous Jack the Ripper. Cornwell is desperately trying to prove this by analysing Sickert’s paintings and family history but I’m still not quite sure I agree with her. To believe your solution is the only possible key to the mystery and rejecting every other theory when so little is known about these murders is something I wasn’t really keen on while I was listening to her book. Also, going into such details about Sickert’s personal life and examining his life from early childhood might give us a better understanding of the murderer and his motives – if indeed Sickert was Jack the Ripper, which, as I said, I’m still not convinced of – but I found these parts very long and definitely less interesting than some other parts of the story.
Despite all these, however, I did enjoy the book. She didn’t manage to convince me that her theory is the right one but I do think the book can be enjoyed whether you accept her argument or not and it still gives you an idea of what the killer and this whole era might have been like.