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Publisher's Summary

From New York Times bestselling author Patricia Cornwell comes Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert, a comprehensive and intriguing exposé of one of the world's most chilling cases of serial murder - and the police force that failed to solve it.

Vain and charismatic Walter Sickert made a name for himself as a painter in Victorian London. But the ghoulish nature of his art - as well as extensive evidence - points to another name, one that's left its bloody mark on the pages of history: Jack the Ripper. Cornwell has collected never-before-seen archival material - including a rare mortuary photo, personal correspondence and a will with a mysterious autopsy clause - and applied cutting-edge forensic science to open an old crime to new scrutiny.

Incorporating material from Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed, this new edition has been revised and expanded to include eight new chapters.

©2002, 2016 Cornwell Enterprises, Inc. (P)2016 Brilliance Audio, all right reserved.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

I thought this was a new book.

I was most disappointed to find that this book is basically just a reprint with a little extra material from Ms. Cornwell's book "Portrait of a killer" which I already own and loved.

Not really happy with this turn of events.

33 of 38 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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Boring & Tedious

This book is not what I expected. Just a long string of facts that the narrator delivers with lack of tone or inflection.

18 of 21 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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Boring

I usually stay up late to finish books by Cornwell but this one beats Ambien

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Gillian
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 03-02-17

'It Could Be That', 'Maybe', 'Perhaps'

What starts as an engaging listen quickly turns exasperating. Cornwell paints a vivid portrait of Walter Sickert as a deeply unsound individual with a horrific childhood (a series of operations for fistula that ended with a third at the time he was only five years old; a disturbed father and unreliable mother) that makes him... troubled. There. That's where it all ends. After that, "Ripper" is a series of purely speculative statements that wind up being yawn-inducing and almost farcical.
She constantly states that he cannot be pinpointed near the scene of any of the crimes: sometimes he was within a few miles, sometimes he was miles upon miles away but... he could've traveled! Then there's the paper of letters to the police and newspapers: It was the same brand of stationery that Sickert and his wife were using at the time! Possible witnesses noticed a man with a wrapped package: He was known to wrap his paintings in newspaper! There are more than the five or six women (tho' truly, as many as eleven definitely) attributed to him: Why, there could be as many as a dozen! Maybe more than twenty! Never mind the fact that none of the other victims she reports have the same signatures as his earlier works...
I was hoping that she'd address some of the other suspects, particularly Kosminski but, after dismissing the DNA evidence (which I agree, is ludicrous), she simply states that he was a violently insane man with a hatred of women... Wait, what?!? Why doesn't she expound on that rather than devoting an entire chapter to proving that the Royals had nothing to do with the murders?
Don't waste your time, and for heaven's sake, don't waste your credit on this book. The only reason I gave this two full stars was because the Afterword is the most interesting part of the book. It's how she got involved and has some of the things that have happened during and after: Techno-glitches, lightning strikes causing house fires, paintings that shift and move. Perhaps it's not so much the wicked soul of Walter Sickert causing her distress as it is the victims saying: You're barking up the wrong tree!

25 of 34 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Redundant Ripper

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

It was a repeat of a previous Cornwell book, just added some details. Disappointing and boring, did not follow the sequence of the murders but jumped around a lot.

What do you think your next listen will be?

Will try Dead Run, like who done its.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great book!

This is such a great interesting book to read. Not only does the author give you all sides, the investigative work was amazing. The story is riveting and includes historical detail like what it was like to be rich or poor then and also surgeries (yikes!) at the time. Great fascinating book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Hahn
  • Stillman Valley, IL, United States
  • 05-31-17

Wooden

I could barely force myself to finish. The author's writing is wooden and self-referential. The narrator is merely wooden.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A review from a working painter

I’m not a true crime aficionado, nor am I a “Ripperologist.” I read this book for one reason, and that is because the author believes a painter was Jack the Ripper.

Cornwell is known to be an intrepid researcher, but her understanding of working artists seems abysmally thin. This annoyed me in so many ways that I am going to list them.

From the beginning, she makes circumstantial connections with Sickert and the Jack the Ripper letters to the police based on artistic practices she appears to think are distinctive to the artist.

For example, one letter was from “Mathematicus.” She implies that Sickert possessed a particularly mathematical frame of mind because he squared up his drawings and spoke frequently about angles, lines, and proportions.

All classically trained artists learn in this way. Even the most brilliant draftsmen frequently employed squaring up in preparation for painting. And many, many masters would speak “mathematically” about composition and proportion, especially for figure painters.
They still do.

“Sickert used newspaper and string to wrap up his drawings” and newspaper was present on some of the corpses or at the crime scenes. Newspaper and string! How rarefied these materials must have been in Victorian London! To think one would have carried about a paper package tied up with string! Please.

“Sickert is known to have drawn, etched, and painted only what he saw. Without exception this seems to be true.” This assertion becomes problematic throughout the book, but Cornwell doesn’t make the connection. (See Sickert's artwork online).

Cornwell remarks about how Sickert seemed to value his sketches more than his paintings. Had she spoken with even a few artists, she might have discovered this is true for so many artists that it is sort of a joke. We sell paintings but sketchbooks must be taken by force. Sickert lived at a time before “art journals” and so much public sharing. In a way, a sketchbook is a diary, a private thing.

That said, Cornwell also has a problem with Sickert’s sketching of body parts, implying that he “may have been improving his technique” with life drawings, but more or less accusing him of using sketches to “relive” his murderous activities.

Anyone who’s done a life class knows it is easy to accumulate a lot of drawings of body parts: a whole page of hands, or faces from multiple angles. Because feet are so difficult to draw, I have sketchbooks with pages of feet in them. But I do not have a foot fetish, nor have I ever cut off anyone’s feet. Repetitive drawing to explore and really know a subject is one reason sketching is an essential daily practice.

Cornwell continually sees what she wants to see in drawings and paintings. Some of her conclusions strike me as untenable and even bizarre, but perhaps all of this is in the eye of the beholder.

I was a bit surprised that Cornwell wrote of artists in general, after saying how very eccentric and weird we are, “It’s not unusual if they’re egocentric and selfish or completely devoid of empathy.” What an ignorant generalization to make!

Through Cornwell’s eyes, we see Sickert as a classic narcissist: “He victimized people only when he had the advantage. He preyed on people when they were weak. It was all about power. It was all about who had it.” Sickert's nearly perpetual boredom is another feature of narcissism.

Also, “The past meant nothing to Sickert, and he had no loyalty to people no longer of use to him.” His explotation of his “friends” was narcissistic and on an almost Wagnerian scale: was it not a privilege to financially support his artistic genius? (No wonder he said Dickens’ “Bleak House” was his favorite: with his emotionally arrested development and manipulations, he was Harold Skimpole with a paintbox).

Artwork is not the only thing in which Cornwell sees what she wants to see.
Without having evidence to back up her assertion, Cornwell says that murder victim Emily Dimmock’s facial skin shows eruptions from a sexually transmitted disease. On the other hand, she does not connect Sickert’s frequent health problems, which included urinary tract issues as well as “periodic suffering from boils and absesses that would send him to bed” being linked to his possibly having a sexually transmitted disease.

Again without any documentary evidence, Cornwell insists that Sickert’s childhood operation was on his genitalia, despite the fact that the doctor for the third surgery was a specialist in other types of fistula. She insists that Sickert was damaged and deformed from these surgeries, again with no evidence. It does not seem to occur to her that he might have been functional and to have not only been able to have sex normally and frequently, and in doing so to have acquired a sexually transmitted disease himself. I mean, if we’re going to make wild speculations, why not make that one?

It goes without saying that many children have to suffer unspeakable medical conditions and procedures. Were all of them to grow up wanting to wreak revenge on society to compensate for their sufferings, we'd be experiencing the greatest population decimation since the Black Death.

Throughout the book, Cornwell attempts to tie the canonical Ripper murders (and countless others) to Sickert with the flimsiest of threads. They do not hold.

Circumstantial is one thing; tenuous is another. Certainly if one wishes to see things a certain way, there are things which might be tantalizing. But most of these things are really banal. To possess a red neckerchief, to live within several blocks of a murder scene, to have a few eccentric twists...at the end of the day, are these things significant? Having unpleasant ways or strange proclivities, drawing odd things and being compulsive about secrecy...do these things make a murderer? If the answer to these questions is yes, I need a lot more evidence than Cornwell presents.

Despite her comments about the tragic fates of those unjustly condemned for crimes they did not commit, Cornwell may very well be participating in the same actions she disdains.

I’m no fan of Sickert, nor of his paintings. There is every reason to believe he was a textbook narcissist with all that brings with it. But that doesn't make him a murderer, not based on such insignificant "evidence."

The narration was so bad, I switched to the print book on Kindle Unlimited. It was so beautifully formatted, filled with photos and maps. However, there was not a single footnote for the immense quantity of allegations that Cornwell makes. I would've liked to see some references.

Having finished the book, I was left with the image of Cornwell as a woman with a fixed idea and Sickert as a childish prankster who's led her a very expensive dance. I could almost hear him laughing from the grave at the thought of anyone believing he was Jack the Ripper, delighted at all the attention from people who’d never so much as heard of him obsessing over his life. How a narcissist would love that!

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Should Have Returned

The poorest performance in Audible history. Where are all the story tellers nowadays. I knew Jack and this guy was no ripper.

8 of 12 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Awful robot like narration

Just the single worst audio book ever.
Parts of this did not even sound like a real person.
I love audio books, and i love this author but i will avoid any more books read by this person.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • John
  • 03-25-17

Sloppy performance, book lacked clear structure

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Patricia Cornwell's novels are set in The USA and an American narrator adds to the ambience. This book is set in the U.K. so an English narrator would be better. The narrator should have taken more trouble to check pronunciation of place names.
The book doesn't follow a clear path - it's not chronological and so it has a tendency to repeat material already covered. There is a lack of information about Walter Sickert's later life, which left me wondering about when and why he retired as a serial killer.
The speculation about the precise nature of Walter's early surgery and any subsequent physical effects seems laboured, unnecessary, and in poor taste, given the total lack of information.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

Possibly organise the material more like a case for the prosecution.

Would you be willing to try another one of Mary Stuart Masterson’s performances?

Of a subject set in the USA, perhaps.

Do you think Ripper needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

No, unless radical new information becomes available.

Any additional comments?

The author appears to have prejudged the previous books on the subject as not worthy of consideration. That being so, she can hardly complain that 'Ripperologists' have similarly prejudged her work.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for bri6942
  • bri6942
  • 03-03-17

Nothing New

If you have read the first book don't waste your credit, think twice if you haven't,
Patricia Cornwall brings a reasonable argument for sickert being the author of the ripper letters but not the. Identity of the ripper himself , as John Douglas ( the founding head of the fbi behavioral science unit whom Benton Wesley , Jack Crawford and criminal minds Gideon is based on) asserts it is unlikely that a compulsive killer would quit and go back to a normal life , more likely he (the overwhelming majority are male) is apprehended and institutionalised , dies or moves on to new pastures , neither Sickert or Bruce Robinson's Maybrick Do this after the final murder , more likely that Sickert was the dear boss writer as he would have had plenty of access to the crime scenes/autopsy in the free for all that was east end London at the time.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Kanterla
  • 05-18-17

Not convinced.....

I rated the narrator as 3, but in honesty there isn't much more she could have done to improve.

It's the content of the book that I take issue with.

So, Walter Sickert may have written some of the Ripper letters, he may have been a terribly unpleasant person, and he may have had some extremely scarring experiences in childhood. However, I am not convinced that the links to the horrific murders which took place in the "time" of Jack the Ripper have really been made in this book.

A lot of the evidence refers to undated letters and speculation regarding such things as Sickert's artwork, and it's all just a little bit too tenuous to be believable.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • c
  • 04-25-17

Poor

Awful robotic American narration spoilt the audio book. Still not convinced of the outcome. No conclusive evidence provided by the author.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Andrew Cassidy
  • 03-15-17

A penny dreadful

It's a pretty ludicrous theory. Sweeping generalisations and conjecture take the place of research and facts. I wouldn't bother with this; instead I'd buy Donald Rumbelow's comprehensive tome on the subject. Sickest is as likely the ripper as James Maybrick.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Sue Smith
  • 03-04-18

Well researched but let down by poor narration

I love Cornwell’s book as they are so well researched as is this one. Sadly it’s badly let down by the narration which is stilted and wooden to say the least so much so that I couldn’t finish it

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Profile Image for Jonathan Reynolds
  • Jonathan Reynolds
  • 11-16-17

Takes some getting into but now I love it!

So there is A LOT of controversy around this book which is rather puzzling given that there's a fair amount of evidence on display here to suggest Walter Sickert was in fact Jack the Ripper. Whilst Patricia is using some logical leaps and educated guesses at some aspects of the man's life I think she puts forward a good case and cast a fascinating light on a well worn subject.

I cannot understand the backlash she's received off the back of this novel. I can only assume it's a case of ripperologists who're already convinced of another suspect and don't want to be proven wrong and the artistic community getting it's panties in a bunch for potentially revering a monsterous serial killer as an artistic icon. Ultimately no likes to feel like they're in the wrong which is what appears to have happened.

Ignore the negative pressure you'll see about this book because most of it has its own barely concealed agenda and isn't very objective.

Definitely worth a listen!

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Golden girl
  • 11-13-17

Ripper

I read this bookk when it was first released and found it far more informative.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-06-17

Mixed Feelings

Worth a read of you are either a novice or a "Ripperologist"

Unfortunately the author lost her way towards the end by referencing "spooky" occuramces and strange coincidences. This is a shame because much of the rest of the book, though speculation on her part, is well thought out with scientific basis and apparent factual corroboration. So to infer that Jack was haunting the writer/writing is somewhat ridiculous.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • ABC
  • 08-19-17

Don't bother!

Well, we now know what went wrong with the Scarpetta storyline - PC has lost her mind! This is the worst thing I've ever listened to. The narration is robotic and place names are mispronounced, why use an American to read an English history? The subject matter itself? Where do I start.. If I were Walter Sickerts family I'd probably sue. This is character assassination without the flimsiest piece of proof. I think everyone is agreed he wrote some of the Ripper letters. Writing Ripper letters was a national pastime and half the country was at it. There is nothing here to remotely suggest he was responsible and the way PC blackens his name is disgusting. I'm glad this was a Daily Deal, I'd be asking for a refund otherwise. This is just more of the same insufferable PC nonsense which is a shame as she was a decent writer - once.