Saturday, 18 March 2017

Patricia Cornwell; 'Ripper-The Secret Life of Walter Sickert'; investigative genius or deluded fantasy?.

The Daily Mirror, one of Britain's leading tabloids reported this week on Patricia Cornwell's new book on Jack the Ripper-'Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert.' Although the left-leaning red-top is usually my go-to newspaper, Tom Bryant's article had me chomping at the bit in more ways than one. Ripper-ologists among you will doubtless be aware of her execrable previous foray into the field and, as I have no intention of going through that again, I shall focus on her last offering. 'Portrait of a Killer – Jack the Ripper; Case Closed' emerged in 2002 as a result of what can only be described as some kind of episode, the kind of event that usually results in long periods of hospitalisation and dining with plastic utensils. First, though, let's get the dissecting knife out on the Mirror piece;
Walter Sickert; suspected of being Jack the Ripper by no-one, but Patricia Cornwell.
From the Mirror; Patricia, 60, says: “You can’t raise the Titanic for free. I spent about $7million [£5.7million] overall in my investigation, including employing some of the best and brightest experts in the world.” “A lot of people couldn’t have done what I have because they wouldn’t have the money. I am trying to do the right thing. If someone proves me wrong, bring it.”

Fair enough. Firstly, it wasn't 'Case Closed' then, was it?; if so, why the follow-up?. I can understand her fascination with the Ripper, better than most, but Seven MILLION dollars?, for this?.
Patricia Cornwell's new foray into the World of speculative defamation.
Patricia says: “You can never convict anyone of a crime based on a painting. But Sickert’s paintings are chilling in their resemblance to the photos of the victims.” Well, I made several graphics of Jack the Ripper myself; presumably the only thing putting me in the clear is my date of birth then. Plus that, these murders were widely covered by the popular press which made a selling point of lurid front-page illustrations. Hardly a leap to say an artist might have taken some inspiration. Let's hear from the Master detective herself; "I had his paintings hanging in my library in Greenwich, Connecticut, and every time I walked past them, it became too much. I donated about 100 of his paintings and drawings to Harvard and Yale.” Lucky she didn't invest in Edward Munch then.

More evidence is offered; Both Sickert and the Ripper’s letters had strange doodles and characters among the text. As the 'Ripper' letters were almost certainly hoaxes, or, as many experts believe, outright fabrication by desperate Pressmen, this can be safely discounted. Even worse-and more alarming, is this; Patricia believes Sickert is still being protected by shadowy figures even today. “I flew to London after Cornwall and immigration officers said we entered the country illegally as we never cleared Customs in Cornwall.” “I said we did as there was a man in military uniform who looked at our passports. They didn’t have anyone that fitting that description.” Issues, love. Help is available-you just have to embrace it. For starters, the thought that Cornwall is somehow a hotbed of conspiracy is just hilarious by itself-trust me, I've been there. (It's simply breathtaking, by the way-nary a Shadowy Agent or Wicker Man in sight.) Not sure if I was a nefarious agent I'd draw attention to myself wearing 'Military Uniform' either-could it be Patricia can't tell the difference between this...
...and this?.
Perhaps it was our old friend, Sir. Charles Warren-himself implicated by his bizarre decision to have the Goulston Street Graffito removed...
There's more-if you can stand any more-again from the Mirror piece (One can only image what Tom Bryant-an excellent Journalist with a reputation for accuracy made of all this); 'Patricia’s analysis matched paper used by Sickert to some of the letters the Ripper sent to the police. Three Sickert letters and two Ripper ones came from a paper run of just 24 sheets.' This is simply wrong; Gurney Ivory Laid-the paper in question was, according to Cornwell's own, earlier book, divided into quires of twenty-four sheets and not from a run of twenty-four. Any paper manufacturer making runs of twenty-four sheets wouldn't be in business beyond the week, especially in the hey-day of letter writing. Remember, this was before e-mail was even a fevered dream; everyone capable of writing then did so, frequently. The chances of two pieces of paper from the same manufacturer weren't astronomical, but statistically irrelevent. And Sickert used different paper at different times anyway. According to Cornwell's own, earlier book, which then (Page 223) goes on to list discrepancies in the paper sizes concerned!. If you want conflicting opinions, read these two books back to back...

In the new book, she claims Sickert was in London at the time of the murders, despite eyewitness accounts from contemporaries in the Art World to the contrary that place him firmly in Paris during the period. Cornwell claims to have found dated Sickert sketches placing him London at the time-and one can only hope these are in the new book. Even if this is true, he's one of six million, seven hundred thousand suspects. (Other sources than mine place London's actual population nearer to ten million, or even above that-there was simply no reliable figure available due to the transient nature of the metropolis at the time.) Cornwell also claims Sickert sired an illegitimate son who confirmed his Father was, indeed the Ripper. As this son allegedly sold Sickert's papers at auction, it seems there might be something to this, though again the onus is on her to prove it. Given her track record here, I'm not holding my breath.

Cornwell was in Cornwall for one reason, it seems; the Lizard Inn (Since renamed The Top House Inn). The Mirror again; 'Sickert had links to the area and the hotel was frequented in the Ripper era by artists, writers and even MPs.' Ms Cornwell bought the old guest-book from the 1880s, which had been vandalised-at some point in the hundred and twenty nine years between then and now, who knows?, for seven million she might have the answer there, she certainly believes the doodles to be Sickert's, although whether he ever stayed there is open to question. Not by Ms Cornwell, however; “I couldn’t believe it. I saw this guy’s hands all over this book. I gave the guesthouse owner £10,000 for the book. I thought she was going to have a heart attack.” "Then when it turned out to be so good, I gave her another £10,000. It was an amazing find. It’s now in the New York public library.” Basil Fawlty must be spitting rivets. If only she'd gone to Torquay!.

Quite simply, the worst book I have ever had the misfortune to buy.
Lets keep a promise, shall we?; I promised-through gritted teeth-a look at Cornwell's prior excursion into libelling the dead (If, indeed, you can libel a corpse). In her 'Portrait of a Killer-Jack the Ripper; Case Closed – simply the worst book ever to emerge on the subject. Proof?; try these reviews; . Trust me, it's close to unreadable. A popular and talented Author, Cornwell gets out of her depth almost at once by failing to stick to the time-honoured detective maxim; make the theories fit the facts, not the other way around. You simply cannot begin any investigation with a prejudice against a single suspect; Cornwell goes for the throat right off the bat by insinuating the Artist Walter Sickert was, indeed Jack the Ripper. The opening chapter sets scene, but also manages to include a statement that as he kept no diaries, pin-pointing his whereabouts 'During any given day, week, month, or even year.' She then tells us he was born with a penile deficiency and may have had to squat to urinate after painful surgery that probably rendered him impotent, incapable of penetration or even erection. This is, remember, the same woman who is now claiming Sickert Fathered an illegitimate child.

In Portrait, the Author tells us the prostitute Martha Tabram was murdered by a British Soldier-this is well established as two Coldstream Guardsmen are the main suspects, Tabram's injuries consistent with a bayonet-soldiers wore them on their belts as part of walking out dress. Then she drops this beauty on us; 'Sickert was familiar with uniforms' apparently collecting Belgian and French examples later in life. Needless to say, anyone capable of mistaking Border Control uniforms for Military ones will have no problem mixing up Guards uniforms with Cuirassier dress.

Stumbling on through the ramblings brings us, mercifully, to the photo section. Here, too Ms Cornwell's rapier-like intellect is applied. A sketch by Sickert titled Venetian Studies, a double-image of a woman lying on her back with what could be taken for ligature or knife wounds is included as it 'Brings to mind the Murdered Mary Ann Nicols' as her eyes were open too. In what has to be Sickerts sickest work, Putana a Cara (Roughly, 'Prostitute and Lover') a woman sits with her face disfigured in some way, some might say by shadow, but the effect is hideous, ghastly. Sickert-never one of the greats in my untutored opinion, produces what looks to a person from the Hollywood Slasher generation a living nightmare. This is unpleasant to say the least, but proof?. Hardly. Not even remotely. Violent sketches by Sickert abound; one is reproduced showing a man killing his father in a fight-this is then compared to the Mary Kelly murder 'Especially with its wooden bed frame.' Well, there you have it; anyone inheriting an old wooden bed be warned...

We then see a sketch from Sickert's Camden Town murder series in which a man sits on another bed; Cornwell adds ominously a Prostitute was murdered about a mile from Sickert's house in 1907. Two people were murdered virtually outside my front door in the last ten years-and a girl was decapitated by shrapnel when a German bomb landed across the road. As of today I remain free of suspicion. The thought a serial killer could remain undetected from the 1880's to 1907 and beyond is not a well-considered one, especially given the advances in Police forensic work during the intervening decades. Happily, Cornwell goes on to clear up one of the most galling and oft-quoted ripper myths-that Sir. William Gull wasn't and couldn't have been the Ripper. Seventy-One year old stoke patients aren't usually noted for their capacity for violent and bloody murders. And then she goes off on a tirade about rage involving shooting 'Bitches' in the mouth and throwing acid on bodies, before leaving us reeling from Chapter Ten with the suggestion that Sickert may have felt 'Ripp'd' from his Mother's womb. I need some coffee and some aspirin. Badly.

It just goes on and on. I actually have a migraine from this and so, without any pretence at reluctance, I'll leave you wondering whether the remaining eighteen chapters are worth the price of the book. It is rubbish, pure and simple. I'm sure Patricia Cornwell is a fantastic writer-her sales alone tell me this. I just wish she'd stick to areas of competence and not fly off into the realms of fantasy on a deranged whim.

For the original Mirror article go here;

No comments:

Post a Comment

What do YOU think?; don't forget to leave your E-Mail address or join our E-Mail list for the latest from 221b!.