Longman, 2002. 240pp., illustrated.
The subtitle, "Definitive History," may prove misleading to some readers, who might otherwise expect to find a long, detailed rundown of every aspect of the Ripper crimes in this book. That is not the case. Indeed, Begg's coverage of the Ripper crimes themselves comprises barely half the length of the book. Only the most salient facts of each murder (from Emma Smith to Mary Kelly) are provided. Then the five "police suspects" are examined in slight detail, and some shrift is given to the Royal Conspiracy theory and the Maybrick Diary. All in all, the book provides a strong, if compact, coverage of the Ripper case.
The true brilliance of this work, however, shows itself in the remaining 150 or so pages not dedicated to the Ripper. This is where Begg really shines, and what makes this book stand out as one of the most important Ripper releases of the past several years.
Begg provides one of the best overarching accounts of social conditions in London's East End, as well as the history and internal politics of both the police, government and press organizations of the time. Countless other Ripper books have attempted to paint a picture of Whitechapel in 1888, but none have succeeded to this extent. Begg doesn't just describe the late Victorian East End, he provides the entire history of the area, from Roman times to the present. We're not simply told what East London was like in 1888, but more importantly, how it came to be that way. This detailed examination of why Whitechapel became one of the poorest districts in London goes a long way to reveal the motivation, background and history of its inhabitants. For the first time, the Ripper crimes are placed in their true social and historical context.
Highly recommended to all students of the case.