Who was Inspector Frederick Abberline, the lead detective in the Jack the Ripper case? Why did he and his fellow policemen fail to catch the most notorious serial killer of Victorian England? What was he like as a man, as a professional policeman, one of the best detectives of his generation? And how did he investigate the sequence of squalid, bloody murders that repelled - and fascinated - contemporaries and has been the subject of keen controversy ever since?
Here at last in M. J. Trow’s compelling biography of this preeminent Victorian policeman are the answers to these intriguing questions.
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A Step in the Right Direction
It seems remarkable that there's never been a biography dedicated to Frederick Abberline, Chief Inspector for the Metropolitan Police and arguably the most famous of the professionals involved in the Autumn of Terror's search for Jack the Ripper - remarkable, that is, until one realizes just how much information we don't know about the man. I applaud M.J. Trow's attempt to put Abberline's life and work (both Ripper and non-Ripper related) into a larger context. I hope this is a starting point from which others may launch new research. I certainly learned a great deal about Abberline's other cases, and I was pleased to hear the Ripper murders put into a different perspective.
I especially appreciated how Trow used popular perceptions of Abberline and police officer George Godley, such as their portrayals by Michael Caine and Lewis Collins in Jack the Ripper (1988) and Johnny Depp and Robbie Coltrane in From Hell (2001), as framing devices for his deeper explorations into historical reality. (I only wish he had engaged with the portrayal of Abberline and Edmund Reid in the current Ripper Street from 2012-present, as well, although this book's publication date would have made that a very tight squeeze.)
This is not a flawless study, but it is both useful and interesting to those fascinated by the history of law enforcement, detection, and/or the Autumn of Terror. It has the sense of a "good starting place" about it, and I hope it will inspire more exhaustive research along these same lines. Solid narration.
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