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Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, Case Closed    by Patricia Cornwell order for
Portrait of a Killer
by Patricia Cornwell
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Of course, I've heard of Jack the Ripper all my life. Who (at least of my generation) hasn't? I knew someone had butchered women in London in the late 1880s and early 1890s. However, I never realized the scope of the crimes and the playful (to him) way he communicated with the police. Portrait of a Killer is a fascinating account that held my attention throughout. Barring the fact that I was reading of such horrendous acts (beyond belief actually), it is a well-written, factual account of what happened in London at that period of time.

Women were being butchered, eviscerated with the final indignity of their private parts being slashed or removed altogether. Popular author Patricia Cornwell, haunted by the Ripper's story, determined to do her own investigation to discover just who the killer had been. After a mountain of research, she felt sure that artist Walter Richard Sickert was the man responsible for the terrible crimes and for spreading heart-clenching fear through the East End of London for so long. At that time, even members of Parliament and the royal family came under suspicion of being the villain who prowled the dark streets of London to choose his next victim.

Sickert was a recognized artist who took commissions as well as selling his work on the open market. However, most of his work was stark, bleak, dark. He once painted what he called Jack the Ripper's Bedroom. He was an insomniac who roamed the dark streets of London in the blackness of night. Even though a loner, he was married three times. Cornwell's research makes a very credible case that the man was a true psychopath.

I can't begin to get into the research Cornwell and others did for this book. For that, you must read Portrait of a Killer for yourself. I encourage you to do so. The author has depicted London at that period of time so well that you might open your front door and be surprised when not greeted by gas lights and billowing fog. Fortunately the Ripper is long gone. But his vicious deeds lived on long after him.

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