I, like many thousand of others, have long been fascinated in a series of murders that took place in Whitechapel, London during the autumn of 1888, and have become known to history as the Jack The Ripper Killings. I've read no end of books and studied many of the original documents related to the case.
And when I started the book I had a very clear idea whom I would name as the Ripper, and was also aware that the name came out of left field and as far as I know has never been suggested before. And you know something I firmly believe that the events set out in this work of fiction have more than a grain of truth to them. The book turns all the previous theories, all the speculation and indeed the killings themselves on their head. It provides a credible explanation for what happened during that autumn of terror.
Was the Ripper real or an invention of early tabloid journalism?
Who was it?
Well you'll have to read the book to find out.
A string of brutal murders
A sensationalist press campaign
This sordid and brutal affair has become part of folklore, Jack the Ripper is seen as a cross between Dr Jekyll and Dracula and the poor women who perished at the hands of the unknown killer, real flesh and blood people, have become generic prostitutes, Victorian white trash, in the mish-mash of fact and fiction. Over the years various theories have been put forward as to the identity of the killer who glides, vampiric cape flapping, through our consciousness on a miasmic cloud - some have been plausible, others have been laughable.
Lewis Carrol and Arthur Conan Doyle are just two of the most ridiculous subjects put forward as the Ripper.
There are people who have devoted much of their lives to the study of the case - Ripperologists they call themselves and as a collective they are responsible for much of the learned and studious, as well as some of the most bizarre, books on the subject.
Jack has been claimed by the media and treated as any of the villains of Gothic literature - movies have played with the story, Jack has faced off against Sherlock Holmes and Billy the Kid as well as showing up in HBO's excellent, much missed, Deadwood. In comic books the prototype serial killer has become something of a super hero hunting down Victorian vampires. And go into any fancy dress shop and you can get a Naughty Nurse -, er sorry, a Jack the Ripper costume. For an anonymous killer we seem to have a good idea what he looked like.
So what is it about the Ripper that makes it okay for us to create fictions around the character?
We would never dream of writing a novel intended to entertain around the likes of Ted Bundy or Fred West, and yet is there a difference? Does the fact that the Ripper killings were never solved make it morally okay to build entertainments around what were, in reality, a brutally cruel series of killings?
I don't know the answer to that.
These questions were very in mind when I was writing the novel, but I did a lot of research into the crimes, read reams of documents, visited murder sites, almost broke my back carrying books from the library and spent two enjoyable days with a Ripper expert visiting what remains of the murder sites. I felt that if I was going to write this book then I needed to believe the theory the book gives to the identity of the killer and I really do.
Reviews from the original edition:
Dobbs has done his research and packs a lot into his novel. We become immersed in a time and place on the cusp of the twentieth century. Old methods of law enforcement are yielding with the introduction of new technologies. Economic changes create new problems and social pressures.
What an end. The author uses Parade and Buffalo Bill to offer his own truly unique solution to the greatest unsolved serial killer mystery in history.
The colour of the setting, the atmosphere and the characterization are all top-class. The story starts rather low-key, but once you get to the killings, everything steps up a notch and grabs you by the throat. A "historical police procedural" is the most effective way I can describe it. The storyline's multiple, concurrent strands reminded me a bit of the J. J. Marric (John Creasey) Gideon books, as did the well-observed "common people" characters. The difference here is the way they're thrown into greater relief by their contrast with the celebrated Buffalo Bill and his show people. Your choice of this background for your first Pontypridd novel was a stroke of genius. From Keith Chapman AKA western writer, Chap O'Keefe
Another review from THE MACK CAPTURES CRIME WEBSITE - Police Inspector Frank Parade prepares for duty after the last good night's rest he will enjoy for a while. For Parade, the policeman's lot is to maintain order in a six mile area with a handful of constables. But today is going to be more hectic than usual: several hundred cattle have to be moved through town on market day and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show has just pitched camp. This is just the beginning of Parade's problems which will include deaths, robberies, fights, an escaped convict, illicit tavern activity, an overly attentive landlady, and a revelation in the Jack the Ripper case.
The hook that gets readers' attention is the connection to Jack the Ripper and a satisfying and well set hook it is. But A Policeman's Lot is, at its core, a police procedural. Pontypridd in 1904 was cosmopolitan in many respects but still retained a frontier flavor: ...the streets were often lawless -- river traders, gypsies, pickpockets, drifters, even escaped convicts had to be contended with. The story follows Inspector Frank Parade as he puts in long hours monitoring the activities in town, investigating crimes, and schooling a likable but inexperienced young constable. At the time and place the book is set, the police were still developing as a professional organization and didn't have a widespread trust among the public, telephones were not widely available making communication over distances a problem, and forensic analysis was limited. In this environment, the police had to rely on techniques still used today: collect evidence, interview everyone, observe, find patterns.
Frank Parade makes for a quite interesting character. I see him as the kind of man that made the British empire -- brave, honorable, and dedicated to service. As a soldier, he saw action in the Second Boer War then traded Army khaki for the blue of a policeman. He is unwavering in his defense of the law, sets high standards for himself and his men but is not a martinet. Watching the sober Frank deal with the freewheeling Wild West Show made for a fun study in contrasts.
About the Ripper connection I'll only say that it fits nicely into the story and has enough fact to make it a credible plot line. It also lets us see Parade performing good, solid police investigation. I checked some of the Ripper forums after I finished the book and was astonished at the passion with which the case is studied.
A Policeman's Lot is an entertaining story that brings together one of the last icons of the American West, a look at British police work while the force was still in its infancy, and one of the most widely known murder cases in history. I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy historical crime fiction and police procedurals.
"Fascinating concept, setting, and characters. Set in Wales during Buffalo Bill’s 1903/1904 tour of the United Kingdom, the story begins with Inspector Frank Parade carrying out his daily duties in the town of Pontypridd, duties complicated by the unprecedented presence of 500 members of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show encamped outside the town, not to mention the thousands attending the show every day. A series of depraved murders quickly makes things even more complicated. Buffalo Bill stands squarely in his path when Parade tries to investigate the likely possibility that one of the hundreds of show members is involved. And soon enough Parade’s own superiors are blocking his inquires, too. Still more deaths occur as Parade sifts through the thin evidence available and finds a trail that may lead to the perpetrator of the most heinous crime of the 19th Century—London’s “Ripper” murders. Before the story is done, Parade develops a dramatic theory that may solve the Ripper mystery, as well as the murders he faces in idyllic Pontypridd. The story itself is wonderful—clever and intense. IT'S 1904 SOUTH WALES AND THE MOST INFAMOUS MURDERS IN HISTORY ARE ABOUT TO BE SOLVED BY A WELSH COPPER AND AN AMERICAN ICON."