Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Freak Out! or Why I Haven't Had A New Book Review

I have been laboring, and yes, that is the correct word, to finish what would be my 42nd book for the Cannonball Read. I'm so very picky about what I'll read and I'm very bad at choosing books at random from the library. So, I picked up a book that I've been avoiding since it was released in 2002: Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell. Why was I avoiding it? Well, Cornwell is a writer of the fictional Dr. Kay Scarpetta novels, former journalist, and former tech writer and computer analyst for a medical examiner's office. She does not have a degree in forensics, law, or anything else related to law enforcement and/or forensic investigations. Yet, she claims that she alone has been able to uncover and follow clues that once and for all tell us the identity of Jack the Ripper. (I would just like to mention that I accidentally wrote 'Jack' as 'Hack'. Sort of telling, eh?)

Cornwell has decided that famous artist Walter Richard Sickert was Jack the Ripper. She bases this on his paintings, which depict scenes of women in precarious situations. One such painting is called Ennui. In it, a bored looking man and woman are in a room. The woman is looking forlornly at something on a table, possibly birds or something under glass, and the man is sitting in a chair with a surly expression. On their wall is a painting of a woman, possibly a diva. There is a white smudge just over one of her shoulders, standing out in the darkness. Cornwell has decided that this white smudge is a man and that the man is about to murder the woman. I wish I were making this up.

Further damning this book in my opinion is the way that Cornwell relays information that is circumstantial at best but then begins to incorporate it as if it is fact. At one point she tells us about the "ha ha ha" used in some of the Ripper letters. Cornwell then alerts us that Sickert would have used this because he was an apprentice to a famous American artist that laughed like that. Then there is the use of the word 'fools' in the Ripper letters which, she tells us, was a favorite word of Sickert and his father. As if there is no one else that used the word fools? As if there is no one else that would write out "ha" in the late 1800s?

I can't finish this book. It travels in circles unrelated to Sickert and then comes back to the starting point, which is that Cornwell had become obsessed with the artist and wanted him to be the murderer. Maybe he is, maybe not. Probably not. Most telling of all is this quote from the book and Cornwell herself: "But when one works hard and begins to know what to look for, the unusual turns up...". Yes. If you look for something hard enough, you are bound to find it. Whether it is really there or not.

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