A Study in Red – The Secret Journal of Jack the Ripper
By Brian L Porter
Paperback: 244 pages
Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing; 1st edition (January 11, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1554045274
ISBN-13: 978-1554045273

The description of this book on Amazon.com reads as follows:

A Study in Red – The Secret Journal of Jack the Ripper by Brian L Porter tells the story of Robert Cavendish, a modern day psychiatrist who is bequeathed a strange set of papers which purport to be the journal of the long-dead infamous Whitechapel Murderer whose crimes gripped the hearts and minds and instilled terror on the streets of Victorian London. As he begins to read the journal, Robert becomes convinced of it’s [sic] authenticity and finds that the words of the Ripper have a strange and compelling effect on him. Unable to cast the pages aside he finds himself being drawn into the dark and sinister world of the killer until he is unable to distinguish what is fact and what is fantasy. In short, Robert Cavendish begins to feel as though he is being taken over in some way by the soul of the long-dead Ripper. …

The cover design of this book is arresting and true enough, one does not have to read very far into the book before the fear sets in. However, it is not the kind of fear that will make you put the book away; instead, the author managed to sustain the interest of the reader to the very end.
I felt somewhat reprimanded when, some 25 or so pages into the novel, the author wrote:

How easy it would have been to skip straight to the end, to read my great-grandfather’s final notes, to see if the Ripper was identified, either by his own words, if true of by great-grandfather.

Indeed, had this ‘warning’ not been given, I might have been tempted to do exactly that! As it was, I behaved myself and read the book properly.
While I’ve heard of Jack the Ripper and seen some movie adaptations of the story, I never really delved into details of the life of this infamous person. So, I was fascinated to learn about him for this book – the period in time, the atmosphere, socio-economic strata of the people of London and the culture were all elements that were beautifully placed and described throughout the novel. What made this book special were these little details : Jack going to watch the stage play by Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘The Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde’ and, reference to Mr. Bazalgette.
I was grateful for the extensive research the author had clearly undertaken. That said, the quality of writing was such that reading the text was not overbearing but there was lightness of to the the arrangements and sentences; this made the tale a gripping read rather than a tedious one.
Although the main character, Robert Cavendish, was convincing, the character I liked most was, strangely, Jack the Ripper. While his deeds were vile and horrible, it was, above all, those human aspects of him – the neglected son, the dejected lover, the man who yearns for love – which endeared me to him. In the end, one almost feels sorry for Jack the Ripper. There is also the great grandfather, Dr. Cavendish, whose character was written with compassion in mind: his parental burden which, in the end, he discharged in the only way he knew how (I will not give you details here, as it’ll spoil the story).
Though the plot was plausible and the story flowed, I was a little perturbed by the way the tale ended. I would have preferred it had the words ‘Or … is it?’ been deleted. That sentence gave rise to the feeling that the author was merely playing around in telling me this story, almost trivialising the seriousness of what I had read.
Still, I would certainly offer this story to someone who has an interest in tales about Jack the Ripper. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s to have a new respect for Jack the Ripper.
31 March 2008

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