Of all the serial killers ever to kill, serially, has there ever been one whose mere mention is more evocative than Jack the Ripper? The name alone brings to mind a most particular Victorian creepiness: a woman’s shriek, cutting through the gaslit mist. A slick of blood pooling between the cobblestones. A black-hatted shadow, slinking away in the dark of a narrow alley.
For true-crime fans, horror junkies, and history fanatics alike, there’s something about the villain who brutally slayed and dismembered at least five women in London’s East End in the late 1800s that seems to endlessly fascinate. From the viciousness of the killings, to the public outcry over a police investigation that never went anywhere, to the sordid, taunting letters sent to the press by the Ripper (or someone pretending to be him), the murders had all the makings of a very scary story, indeed. And in the years since, it’s only gotten scarier. Because old Jack was never caught—the police never managed to so much as name a likely suspect—people have been free for a hundred years to form their own theories about whodunit, how, and why. In real life, the list of potential Rippers has grown to enormous, useless proportions; at this point, more or less the entire population of Victorian London has been indicted, including a member of the royal family. But in the literary world, the mystery surrounding the Ripper murders has given way to dozens of thrilling, fictional accounts of the man’s (or woman’s!) dirty, deadly deeds. These are our favorites:
Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson, by Lynsday Faye
A pastiche of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories written in the voice of Holmes’ companion, John Watson, Faye’s novel—which finds the famous consulting detective in pursuit of the Ripper—captures the spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original characters perfectly. Replete with historical detail and lots (and lots!) of deduction, this is an exciting and gripping mystery even for non-Sherlockians. Sherlockians, however, will love it especially.
Savage, by Richard Laymon
Laymon’s novel begins as the Ripper killings come to their bloody end—with a terrified teenage boy hidden under the bed upon which the Ripper’s final victim is being butchered. What follows is a quest for vengeance that takes readers from Victorian London to the American frontier, as the boy becomes a man bent on bringing the killer to justice.
Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, by Robert Bloch
Originally published in Weird Tales magazine in 1943, this account of Jack the Ripper’s story by a then-master of modern horror is fictional, but heavy on actual, factual details of the real-life murders. Bloch’s creative theory of the Ripper’s motivations later resurfaced when he used it as the basis for an episode of Star Trek, for which he was a contributing writer.
The Whitechapel Conspiracy, by Anne Perry
After writing twenty novels featuring Victorian husband-and-wife crimefighting team Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, it’s amazing that it took Perry so long to set one of their stories against the backdrop of the Ripper murders. In this book, four years have passed since the last of the slayings in Whitechapel—but as the Pitts discover, the reign of terror of Jack the Ripper is far from over.
The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson
American teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London with dreams of boarding school, biscuits, and cute British boys. But on the same day that she begins her new life across the pond, a series of brutal slayings breaks out across the city. The murders are strangely familiar, so much like the Ripper killings that plagued the East End more than 100 years ago. But the same man couldn’t be responsible…or could he?
What’s your favorite fictional take on Jack the Ripper?