`Truth is what you decide to believe' has been said in many phrases by many famous thinkers. After reading this completely engrossing, entertaining, well researched book by John Morris and his equally obsessed father Byron Morris, now deceased, and written here by John Morris with the skill of a top flight mystery writer, THE HAND OF A WOMAN leaves this reader deciding to believe that this version of the identity of Jack the Ripper is entirely plausible. But whether or not the reader arrives at the same conclusion should not detract from the book as a whole. This is a work of genteel quality about one of the most heinous serial killers in history, and though that may sound like a non sequitur, just attempt to read the first chapter and admire the elegant way John Morris sets about sharing the years of investigation both he and his father endured to arrive at the conclusions offered here.
The story of Jack the Ripper is well known and has been the subject of many fine books, films, theatrical works, and works of the visual arts. The brief time in 1888 when five murders were performed is described as a moment in history when the laws of England were different, the customs of the times different, and the views of women outside of society (prostitutes, women of the streets, workhouse girls and the like) considered to be less than noticeable or of significance is the stage Morris creates like an artist at canvas. Each of the murders is described in meticulous detail and there many accompanying photographs of the victims and those people involved in the fruitless investigation to find the perpetrator. Morris has the eye and the language of a trained forensic expert in bringing these ghastly incidents to life.
Rather early on in the book Morris share the information that his investigation uncovered and names the woman (the wife of a physician whose infidelities only served to place a spotlight on the fact that the woman was barren and unable to produce the child the physician so desperately wanted) who Morris is convinced was responsible for all five murders and because of her status in society (her husband was a physician to the Royal family) went completely unnoticed. Is it a far-fetched thought? Not in the manner in which Morris presents his case. In the author's words, 'It had been an orgy of death - the reason for which only a woman unable to have children of her own, a woman who had lost her fortune and was now faced with losing her husband too, a woman on the edge of insanity, could fully understand. But the butchery had taken much longer than she had realised.' At the end of this book Morris presents three appendices that lend further proof to his postulates.
In the end this is a book so well written and enthralling that it is almost impossible to set it aside once started. The sound, smells, flavors of Victorian England suffuse every page. For those who enjoy mysteries and the process if investigation and resolution, this book is bound to please. Grady Harp, August 12