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Updated:

Oct 26, 2019:
First release: v1.0.

 

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          Howard Jackson: LIGHT WORK.       
BITTER LEMON PRESS 
£ 8.99  pages  262
09 April 2019

 ISBN: 9781912242191


         

The latest phenomenon about serial killers is the Netflix hit, MIndhunter.  All of season one passes before FBI agent Holden Ford mentions Jack the Ripper.  It happens in the first episode of season two.  As it says in the introduction to Light Work, albeit in another context, it was only a matter of time.   The Ripper cannot be ignored by any writer interested in the darker elements within fiction.  Horror and crime author Howard Jackson  spent twelve months of his life researching the crimes and times of the Victorian monster. 

The typical Jack the Ripper book out there either identifies a suspect or ponders an inconsequential detail and pretends it has significance.  The approach of Howard Jackson is different.  He claims correctly that Light Work relishes rather than denies the mystery.   Neither does it follow a restrictive chronological layout.  Instead there are 40 separate and self-contained topics that relate to the murders and the London Victorian era.  These topics include the obvious such as the victims, murders, mysteries that have preoccupied Ripper authors in the past, suspects and law enforcement officials.  But there are also surprises like London fog, music hall star Marie Lloyd, Jack the Ripper tours and some interesting book and film reviews.  Light Work can be either read from beginning to end or dipped into as a reference book that is much more entertaining than usual.  Jackson writes well and he mixes his own common sense perspective with a sardonic style.  He respects, though, the tragedy of the victims.  The chapter Life of A Victim is a poignant account of the fate of Annie Chapman, a life ruined by alcohol problems, an indifferent society and a sadistic killer.   The left wing political sensibilities of Jackson are obvious throughout but rather than be a distraction they help the book resonate.   If Light Work is critical of Victorian authority and its attitudes, it resists conspiracy theories.   Many on the left are tempted by explanations that implicate Freemasons and the British Royal Family.  Jackson takes a sensible position that is impressive and informative. 

The title Light Work is appropriate because it indicates an alternative to existing heavy historical tomes.  Reading the book is both light work and enjoyable.  Much of the material is inevitably familiar but the historical tangents provide surprises.   The chapter on the doss houses of London and their appalling conditions but importance to London working class life is an essential read.    Jackson may not be tempted by typical conspiracy fare but he identifies at least two examples of suspicious behaviour by the police.  He also has an odd and disturbing suggestion about the murder of the final Ripper victim.  Again, though, he resists making conclusions.  Jackson insists he is only pausing to ponder.  It makes sense.  Light Work is a different kind of Ripper book.   By avoiding the sledgehammer approach loved by Ripper authors, the entertainment within Light Work helps us understand why Jack is the most famous serial killer of all.

 By Irene Keith