This memoir was recently discovered and appears to have been written in the 1920s by someone who asserts that he was Jack the Ripper. This person is James Willoughby Carnac, and this memoir was written shortly before his death. It is an account of his entire life, including a few short months in 1888 when he became the murderer known to posterity as Jack the Ripper. This book introduces a new suspect for the infamous murders in Whitechapel in 1888. There is information here that does not appear to be derived from contemporary newspapers or any other publications, and the descriptions of Tottenham in the 1870s, the visits to performances of Jekyll and Hyde, and the intricate geography of Whitechapel in 1888 are written with pin-point accuracy. There is also a credible motive given for James becoming the murderer Jack, and also a reason for the end of the murders. Given the fact that the author also appeared to have knowledge about aspects of the case not in the public arena at the time, it could be that this actually is the autobiography of Jack the Ripper. Ultimately, it is up to the listeners to decide if they believe the mystery has been solved at last, but even if they end up deciding the account to be a work of fiction, it would still be one of the very earliest imaginings of the Ripper case, written in the early years of the 20th century, a fascinating piece of period writing and a worthy addition to the Ripper canon. Whatever side listeners come down on, there is no question that this book will be a source of much debate.
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The narration on this audiobook is superb. But the story is fascinating as well. The manuscript dates from the late 1920's but it is unclear who the author actually is and the circumstances of the how story itself was written are also unclear but this is explained towards the end of the book. However, whether this is really an autobiography of the Ripper or a well researched fictional story, is irrelevant. It gives a clear insight into the times and the dialogue is also superb capturing the dialect of the era. I was unsure when I purchased this but after listening to it I would highly recommend it. If you think you might be interested but are unsure, you wont regret your purchase.
The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper is a maddeningly fascinating work. It was reportedly discovered in 2008 in the possessions left to his heirs by S.G. Hulme-Beaman, a children's author and illustrator best known as the creator of the Toytown stories and their characters (including Larry the Lamb) who died in 1932. The manuscript is attributed to "James Carnac," who professes to be the real Jack The Ripper writing about his gruesome exploits 40 years after the fact. The book is made up of four parts: 1) Introductory notes apparently made by S.G. Hulme-Beaman, which explain how he came upon the manuscript while acting as executor of Carnac's estate, but failed to follow Carnac's directions to send the manuscript to a publishing house due to its disturbing and distasteful subject matter; 2) the first two sections of the narrative, which relate the story of Carnac's young life (including his father's murder of his mother and subsequent suicide) and Whitechapel years (including the Ripper slayings); 3) the third section of the narrative, produced on a different typewriter than the first two sections and written in a different, more "fictional" voice, bringing Carnac's story to an all-too-neat end; and 4) commentary by Alan Hicken and respected Ripperologist Paul Begg.
What is this book, exactly? Several possibilities exist. It might represent Hulme-Beaman's attempt at a "true crime"-inspired novel, but this seems unlikely due to both the man's workload and his personality. It might be a novel by another author that came into the possession of Hulme-Beaman. (There is no record that James Carnac ever existed.) It might be a genuine autobiography of Jack the Ripper, and either the author's name is actually a pseudonym or somehow the historical James Carnac managed to live and die without creating a paper trail. Or perhaps it is a modern-day hoax purporting to be a manuscript from the late 1920s.
I went into this with the intention of reading it much like The Lodger (1913), an early twentieth-century novel by Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes, a woman who lived through the Autumn of Terror and evoked it well in her story. As such a work of fiction, The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper is effective. Carnac's fascination with blood, his knowledge of his father's act of murder/suicide, his curiosity about his French ancestors' roles as executioners, and his own strange (and resisted) compulsion to kill his kind uncle set the stage well for the horrors to come.
The descriptions of his behavior as Jack the Ripper offer the most interest. Unlike most works and speculations of the time, which attributed to the Ripper complicated motives (religious fanaticism, a personal vendetta against women, a desire to undermine the police force and law in general), Carnac comes across much in the way we understand modern psychopaths today. He killed because he liked killing, and he got away with his crimes because he was smart enough to choose his victims carefully. His dark, wry sense of humor is both startling and convincing. What is more, the end of the Ripper's murderous spree has a believable justification: Carnac was badly injured in an accident with a carriage (while crossing the street to get to a paper detailing his latest crime), losing both his leg and his mobility.
What I find most fascinating about the book is how it follows and deviates from known facts about the murders. Carnac admits that he had kept scrapbooks of media coverage of the crimes, and the similarity between some of his narrative and contemporary newspaper accounts can be explained by the fact that, after forty years, he returned to his clippings to remind himself of particulars. That said, he also deviates in some critical ways from widely-reported details -- and, in one case, provides a detail only known to have been reported in one account published in New York -- which certainly creates the effect of firsthand knowledge.
The odd ending, with its vastly different tone -- and, seemingly, purpose -- is also a mystery unto itself.
It's interesting to speculate on the real nature of this work. I am not suggesting that I was persuaded that Carnac existed or that he was the Ripper, but I was impressed by the psychological insight of the text and the historical mysteries it provides.