There have been a number of weak reviews of Bruce Robinson’s impressive Victorian indictment, They All Love Jack: Busting The Ripper, with The Guardian leading the way in short, spoiler-ridden prose, and we’re determined not to fall into the same camp. The one area that they get right, without necessarily putting in the time or effort to explain the whys and wherefores, is the fact that it is indeed a very good read, and we’d echo that significantly, but from our point of view we’d have to say that there’s less strain on credibility for Robinson’s 15-year work than the Guardian makes out.
We’re not going to give the game away by summarising the evidence, findings and key assumptions that are laid out in the book too much – you can read it yourself for that riveting exposition – but in general the content revolves around Bruce’s newfound theory about the biggest who-done-it in history. The Whitechapel murders, along with the other deaths that Bruce attributes to the Ripper, remain to this day officially unsolved, but in his mammoth new release, has the writer and director of Withnail And I hit the proverbial smack bang on the head with a square hammer the size of the East End of London?
For Bruce, it’s abundantly clear who the Ripper is and why he managed to get away with committing some of the ugliest murders Britain has ever seen. Throughout the book he sets out a conspiracy led by high-powered Free Mason brothers who couldn’t allow the truth about the Ripper to get out for fear that it would expose their control on the country and undermine their positions of power. As such, evidence was ignored and criminal proceedings were fudged to keep the identity of the Ripper a secret, because, as the book exhaustively admonishes, he was a well connected and high-standing Free Mason himself.
The detailed research in the book is overwhelming and it results in a hell of a lot to take in to try to keep up with Bruce’s left-field thinking. For the most part this is at least partially achievable, enough to get the gist of the majority of what he’s trying to say, but overall you can’t just read the book and hope to get it all unless you have an eidetic memory and an IQ of in excess of something really high and even then you’d probably still have a couple of questions for the author.
While the book is a massive tome of incredible dedication, the only way you’ll ever understand it in the same way as the man behind it would be to trace his research over an equally significant time period. We’d love to be able to query Bruce about his work and the elements that we didn’t quite follow in absolute detail, to see his research notes and allow all of the connections to join up more completely. The result of this is that the book is successful at convincing you that there’s something to it all without giving you enough clear ammunition to be able to explain it yourself.
The size of the book is significant, but it turns out to be anything but daunting as the pace at which things move is rapid and your thirst for more insight builds to a fever pitch very fast. It’s a gruesome and macabre state of affairs that such grim reading should inspire so much eager consumption, but such is the infamy of the events and the nefarious treachery of the conspiracy that appears to have been uncovered that you can’t help but press on.
It’s clear that Bruce Robinson put an enormous amount of time and effort into the making of the book, both in terms of the thorough research that sits behind it, and the crafting of the words that attempt to explain it all to the rest of us. It’s his no rock too small, no scab too deeply rooted, no taboo too unmentionable ethos that makes it all so compelling, giving you a lot of respect for the author for daring to go where no other writer has had the brass farthings to in the past.
The visceral nature of the delivery is a small part of the fast flowing narrative, but what it brings in terms of pace is countered by the negative of reducing the outward impression of emotionless impartiality. It is very commendable that the atrocities committed – both by the Ripper, and those that should have been able to catch him – have fired a rage in him, but he’d probably sound more reasoned if he’d adopted less of a vitriolic tone. It would have resulted in a less gripping read, but it would have taken away some of the ammunition from his inevitable critics.
This is added to by an element of flashing over key points that may well be obvious to Bruce, who has become completely immersed in the granular detail of all his interconnected pieces, but for the rest of us leads to questions where there should have been focused elucidation. Because there is so much detail, in and among his intelligent nuances of writing, it’s easy to miss a key point only to get to the ergo moment at a loss as to why X = Y so convincingly. Where this does land, it’s hard to argue with, but even after taking into account backtracking to remind yourself of the evidence he has laid out, you can still feel a bit nonplussed as to why an eye witnesses description matches the physical characteristics of Bruce’s prime suspect.
It probably makes us sound a bit like a bunch of dullards, but it would have been useful for chapters of the book to have been summarised in some way to make it easier to ground yourself in the most important salient points in the rationale. A closing summary would have also been a good way to finish the book, instead of finishing with Appendis on other government-led cover-ups by the masonic elite. While this does set the scene in terms of the extent to which people will go to divert the course of justice, it would have been appreciated to get a succinct run through of the most important points. This would have reiterated the main reason to believe that Jack the Ripper wasn’t caught because of a conspiracy to protect the position of Masons and their mystic tie with the state and that it was grand masonic organist called Michael Maybrick that committed the cereal acts of cruelty, leaving breadcrumbs to his discovery along the way.
Perhaps our least favoured trait of the book is the inverted sexism and racism that Bruce Robinson falls into when he’s at his most cutting. It’s clear to see that he’s attacking the people that would have thought such things in earnest at the time, but we’re still not keen on the terminology used occasionally throughout the book, or the need for it as a point-making device.
However, all of that aside, They All Love Jack: Busting The Ripper is a phenomenally impressive work of investigative non-fiction writing, especially when you take into account the 130 years that have passed since the events of 1988. For our part, we’re completely sold on Bruce Robinson’s theory about the brute of a Whitechapel Murderer and his masonic connections.
There’s nothing straining at the limits of credibility about such an in depth, thorough exposition of the events surrounding the murders, taking everything into account with a fresh set of eyes and looking at it all from as many angles as possible. It’s not impossible that Bruce Robinson’s theory is incorrect, but you really can’t fault his understanding of the situation and skill in being able to put it all together. There’s at least enough to the cut and thrust of They All Love Jack to make it the framework for all Ripperology texts going forward.
They All Love Jack: Busting The Ripper, by Bruce Robinson review: 4/5