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Who was Jack the Ripper? Was it Aaron Kosminski? George Chapman? Walter Sickert? Bigfoot? Spring-Heeled Jack? There is no shortage of theories about the identity of the infamous Whitechapel ripper, and no shortage of books written about it. Unfortunately, no amount of sleuthing will ever unveil the mask because the crimes happened 133 years ago, making it kind of hard to track down a, now, very dead serial killer.

Most true crime readers already have an idea who they believe Jack is though, as do the many authors who write about him. If you pick up enough of these “unmasking” books you’ll find a lot of them share one major flaw- the inability to bend, or rather, arrogance. These authors are so positive in their theories that they’ll refuse to listen to anyone that may offer a counterpoint. Russell Edwards of Naming Jack the Ripper is no different, and it’s the one dumbbell that weighs down his otherwise compelling analysis.

Jack the Ripper, also known as the Whitechapel Murderer, and sometimes The Leather Apron, was a serial killer who murdered and mutilated an estimated number of five women in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. The first serial killer in history to be heavily followed and obsessed over by the media, Jack the Ripper may be gone but he continues to live on in folklore, pop culture, and in the minds of millions to this day. This man who murdered five women so horribly has made himself immortal by simply remaining a mystery.

Jack’s crime spree officially started on August 31, 1888, and ended 70 days later on November 8, 1888. Only a few months forever cemented in history. It’s not at all a surprise that Jack wasn’t caught as criminal investigations back then relied almost entirely on eyewitness statements. You either had to be caught in the act or seen by someone you knew in order to be properly identified, and the Ripper case had neither of those. There was also the issue that was 1800s police work, it wasn’t exactly that professional. Ironically, this is the only reason Naming Jack the Ripper even exists because back in the 1800s, it was apparently okay for policemen to take accessories off dead bodies and gift them to their wives as Police Constable Amos Simpson did on the morning of September 30, 1888, when he allegedly took a shawl from one of the Ripper’s victims.

(By the way, Amos Simpson’s wife did not appreciate this particular gift. She took one look at that thing and said, “are you nuts? Why would I want a dead woman’s bloody scarf?!” and made him put it in the closet. I don’t actually know what he did with it but point is, she didn’t want it, so fellas, don’t be cheap. Just buy your girl a scarf.)

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Naming Jack

Naming Jack the Ripper is not the best “unmasking” book out there, but it is one of the most convincing. That is something I will praise this book on, Russell Edwards is good at making you believe him.

Edwards is a Ripper fan down to his very core and he writes his “evidence” with a clear passion for the subject. You’re moved by his earnest desire to find Jack’s identity and he’s not too bad of an investigator either. Published in 2004, Naming Jack the Ripper started all from a rumor about a mysterious shawl that may or may not be a piece of evidence in one of the world’s most famous unsolved criminal cases of all time. It’s the Kentucky Fried Mouse of true crime circles.

Supposedly the shawl had belonged to Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes and that she’d been wearing it the night she was murdered. According to the story, it was removed from her body and then passed down through the family of Amos Simpson. Generations later, it was handed over to Scotland Yard’s Black Museum where it sat in a dark room until it was finally sold to Edwards at an auction.

Honestly, I’m surprised this shawl isn’t more famous. Whether or not it actually belonged to Eddowes, it’s still connected to a case so famous it has its own fandom. Despite being debunked by experts, the Ripper letters have continued to live on in importance, yet this simple shawl gets the cold shoulder.

An ominous piece of true crime history, the shawl’s shadowy presence among those who believe its story is only amplified by the dark reddish stains that defile it. If it actually did belong to Eddowes, and if she really was wearing it that night, and if those stains really are her bloodstains, then that makes the shawl the only existing piece of physical evidence regarding the Ripper case. Edwards had no doubt though. He runs hard with all these “what-ifs” and sets out to unmask the Ripper, and before the book even ends, he has his man.

“He is no longer just a suspect. We can hold him, finally, to account for his terrible deeds. My search is over: Aaron Kosminski is Jack the Ripper.”Russell Edwards, Naming Jack the Ripper

Naming Jack the Ripper goes into great detail about this mission that Edwards bestows on himself and I will say, it makes a compelling case. For one, Edwards has clearly done his research. He dives deep into the history of Jack and his victims, as well as the Whitechapel area, discussing the social issues of the time along with the economic struggles and how they possibly resulted in the birth of Jack. Even if you don’t agree with his final verdict, I suggest giving Edwards’ book a try for these sections alone. He lays out the case in a neat linear fashion and hands over every tiny detail that was available at that time.

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Then comes the unraveling. He ties everything around the shawl. No matter how far he might steer away, he eventually goes back to Eddowes’s delicate fashion piece that’s older than everyone’s grandmother. It’s understandable why Edwards clings to it so desperately though, it is the whole basis for his case, and through it he offers something that most “unmasking” books do not have- DNA. This is of course, debatable, but using the shawl Edwards finds “proof” that it belonged to Eddowes and that Jack was a pervert as he apparently ejaculated on the fabric. Using these light traces of blood and sperm, Edwards matches the DNA to Aaron Kosminski who was a suspect back in 1888. The rest of the book then does what it can to connect the dots with Kosminski taking the shawl’s place as the book’s centerpiece.

Aaron Kosminski

Verdict

I really liked this for its persuasive power and the historical details it offers, which is what a book like this is supposed to do. It’s meant to persuade you and Naming Jack the Ripper certainly does its best. However, the riveting journey of the shawl as it’s tested for DNA and connected to numerous persons in history becomes a slog when Edwards comes bouncing back into the picture with a big, non-subtle sign that might as well say “I’m a Hero!”

If anything lowers this book’s rating for me it’s how much Edwards insert himself in the story. Naming Jack the Ripper is 10% the case, 30% the shawl, and 60% Edwards talking about himself. It takes you out of the narrative, away from the shawl, and into the Edwards home office where you can see him making a Charlie Kelly “Pepe Silvia” type conspiracy chart with a picture of the shawl pinned at the center. It reminds me of Steve Hodel’s Black Daliha Avenger where everything is somehow framed to be about the author. Edwards even connects the streets of Whitechapel to himself by recounting the years he spent walking through them as a college student having a connection with the city.

If you can ignore all that, it’s a very good read. Whether you believe everything Edwards presents, it’s hard to ignore everything he offers which in my opinion, makes this book a successful, not to mention fun, endeavor. 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

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Book Reviews

Maeve Fly: A Horror Novel Review

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The evils lurking Los Angeles are unveiled in CJ Leede’s 2023 debut novel, Maeve Fly. The novel is a gruesome love letter and ode to Los Angeles and horror icons, centering on the titular character, Maeve Fly. She is, in short, a Disney Princess and serial killer.

Below the Depths of Anaheim

By day, Maeve Fly works as a princess in “the park.” It is is never named, but obviously Disneyland as depicted by Maeve’s vibrant descriptions of the princesses, furry costumed animals, and movie-themed rides. She plays a Scandinavian princess (Elsa) and genuinely loves the job and her coworker, Kate. In her personal life, Maeve tends to her sick, comatose grandmother, former starlet Tallulah, and her grandmother’s cat.

A stock photo of Los Angeles

Maeve has an ordinary personal life, including going out with Kate and takes biweekly, afternoon trips to a Tiki bar in which she, a man who may or may not be Johnny Depp, and the bartender are the only patrons. Her interests include the macabre and all things horror and Los Angeles history, her love for the city a central theme throughout the novel. When Maeve meets Kate’s brother, Gideon, Maeve’s sense of self unravels.

Mirroring Fiction

The problem with Maeve’s sense of self, however, is that she has no idea who she really is. She adopts the personalities of literary characters, from Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground narrator to those in James, Kant and Milton novels.

Maeve is selfish, antagonistic, and very selective of the people she lets in her life. She is an unreliable narrator with an unpredictable temper and ultraviolent tendencies.

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Leede’s prose and writing of Maeve invites a new narrative to the genre. Maeve is persistent in her disgust with how often villains need a tragic backstory as excuse for their monstrous behavior, especially when the villains are women. Leede dismantles that trope and provides Maeve with no reason for her treacherous behavior. It is simply who Maeve is.

An Ode to Horror

Maeve Fly is everything I love in a horror story. It is an unpredictable slasher with comedy and heart. Leede has displayed her talent for writing horror. She has created a story that pays its dues to the genre’s long iconic history — one example is the references to Pyscho or American Psycho — but is wholly unique in it’s own form. From captivating dialogue to visceral depictions of horror history and Los Angeles’ sites, like the La Brea Tar Pits, the novel sucks you in until the very last, bone chilling sentence.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Mister Magic

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Released in August of last year, Mister Magic is written by author Kiersten White. And I’m going to give you the warning that I wish I’d have had when I started reading it.

This book deals largely with the systemic issues prevalent in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. While there are no overt discussions or descriptions of child abuse, I would argue that it’s alluded to.

In the interest of full disclosure, White lets us know in the acknowledgments that she was raised Mormon and is not anymore. I was also raised Mormon and am not anymore. And this book wrecked me.

The story

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Our story begins with a young woman named Val. She’s been living with her father on an off-the-grid farm for most of her life.

When he dies, a mysterious stranger shows up at his funeral. This man, named Marcus, seems to know her right away. She knows him as well, though she doesn’t seem to remember why.

Eventually, he explains that she was on a children’s TV show called Mister Magic. A show that she has no memory of at all.

And this makes sense because there is little to no evidence online that the show exists. There are no clips, no scripts, no cast lists. It’s as if the show vanished entirely when the last episode aired.

Oh, and during that last episode, a kid probably died.

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Desperate to remember her childhood and maybe even reconnect with her mother, Val leaves with her former cast mates for a reunion and podcast taping.

As the Circle of Friends reforms, fans of the show online rejoice. If the cast is getting back together, it must mean Mister Magic is coming back.

And that’s exactly what the mysterious creators have in mind.

What worked

This book shows a world that is all but impossible to describe from the outside. Long before I realized this book was an allegory for Mormonism, I was catching signs. It felt familiar.

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Everyone was a little too nice. Everyone seemed to be holding back a little. Everyone seemed eager to do things for other people, almost like they felt like they had to justify their presence.

I also appreciated that we talked about child abuse without talking about child abuse. Through the book, we learn that one member of the cast, Kitty, is missing. Her disappearance heralded the end of the show, but no one wanted to talk about what happened to her.

This, I thought, was a subtle and brilliant way to talk about abuse without having to go into upsetting details. And in not adding these details, White leaves us to invent them ourselves. Which is always worse.

Sometimes it’s the notes you don’t play that make the biggest impression.

To that same end, there is no real gore in this book. No charred bodies, no blood. No gruesome scenes at all. But I feel like that was intentional. I’ll also point out that in reading other reviews for the book, I noticed that others criticized the character for being rather bland and one-dimensional. Both of those things are likely on purpose, and part of proving a point.

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In the book, each character remembers Mister Magic pulling them back. He taught them the habit of dulling themselves down. Don’t paint in such a wild manner. Don’t shout so loud. Don’t stray too far.

Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t be different.

In the end, Mister Magic managed to do exactly what the very best horror does. It took a real horror that most people do not experience and turned it into a metaphor that everyone can understand. And it doesn’t have to be just former Latter Day Saints members. All survivors of religious abuse will see themselves in this. But we’ll also see all the other lost children, trapped with Mister Magic, and realize we are not alone.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Book Reviews

Monastery Series 7: a Book Review

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Hello again dear readers. Today we are looking at yet another instalment of Monastery. Once again, I’ll be eating my words. Every time I think the story can’t get any crazier, it does and you’ll understand why soon enough. Without further ado, let’s go!

Plot

We start with quite a tension point in the story (then again, it is always tense nowadays). Rocky’s been abducted and the gang is at a loss for words or motivation, all except Thomas, that is. At this point, all they want is to get Rocky back, even if it means abandoning the search for truth. I can appreciate how Thomas is now a foil not only to those hiding secrets but also to his cousins. Without him, there is no story as far as I’m concerned. However, there were some moments where even I thought he could’ve been a bit more tactful around others’ emotions.

We also see that at least for the time being, Rocky is safe. His POV is so well done I wanted to pull him out of the page and give him a big cuddle. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s yet another collateral damage of the family’s mess. 

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Speaking of mess, Cassandra and Francis reach a fascinating opposing point. She’s concerned Francis is showing no remorse over killing George Turner, or over killing an innocent dog. Could Albert please ask around if there is a special circle of hell for people like him? It’s interesting how Cassandra, no matter how messed up she is, still has some sense of right or wrong. As for Francis, someone needs to take that gun off him ASAP as he’s all too happy using it.

As we all predicted, the Nicole-David-Fred love triangle finally blew up, and boy, how did it. Erica goes full-on scorned woman and drugs Nicole. She then parades her in the middle of Monastery for everyone to see in a wedding dress. Threatening to pour acid on her face is just an added touch to the terror.

Although this turns out to be just a mind game on Erica’s part, we get some insightful character revelations. Nicole’s reasoning for toying with the two guys becomes more understandable, although I still cannot excuse it (and I’m speaking as someone who actually likes Elena Gilbert). I think she could use some therapy to sort out the trauma inflicted by her dad’s affair. At this stage of her life, she shouldn’t end up with either guy. David is also at fault and I think he should work on making it up to Fred. If he and Nicole sail off into the sunset now, it would leave a bad taste in a lot of reader’s mouths. Then again, if Fred does decide to take her back, it would be his choice. Something tells me this ordeal is far from over. 

We end series seven of Monastery with Thomas receiving yet another blow when his dad betrays him and destroys all the progress of their investigation. So much for trusting family, or authorities for that matter. What is going to happen now?

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Overall thoughts

I said a lot of my thoughts while discussing the plot of the episode. As usual, Monastery is full of of drama, mystery, and outright terrifying things to keep us on our toes. The one plot thread I am holding in my hand just waiting to see where it leads me is Madam Witch. Her very fairytale-like deal with Cassandra implies she owes her one of the grandkids. Not to mention the implication that Henry has some kind of special powers. I can’t wait to see how that ties into what happened to Albert. The next part can’t come out soon enough!  5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

More thoughts from the author:

1. Something I talked about before in another article about Monastery a little but something that I picked up on in this episode. Cassandra, although definitely not perfect, still seems to uphold some kind of morality within her. Such as how horrified she is when Francis doesn’t feel bad that he killed George. Was this something you considered when writing these characters, someone who’s not afraid to get their hands dirty but still has some kind of empathy vs someone who doesn’t?

Absolutely – that is my favourite type of character! Who doesn’t love an anti-hero with a grey moral compass, but a moral compass nevertheless? Cassandra is capable of the most atrocious acts, but she always has her family’s best interest at heart – or what her idea of their “best interest” should be.

Interestingly enough, we’re slowly learning how Francis is the result of Cassandra being the way she is, and he himself certainly blames her for much. Francis only has his own interest at heart… yet he killed George because of what the old creep had said about Cassandra! Again, grey area.

2. The whole Erica scene is genius on many levels. I actually got a couple of questions in regards to it. One – were you always going to pull the whole ‘none of the torture devices were real’ trick on the readers to toy with their emotions or were you thinking of doing it for real but backed out? Two – I thought the way the town’s residents acted was very fitting of the story and of modern society. What was your intention with having seemingly everyone witness the ordeal?

Funny, I cannot remember whether that mini-twist was always part of the equation, but I concluded that I didn’t want Erica to be hated or irredeemable – I wanted to make it more about the lesson being learned than the payback.

As for the townspeople witnessing the whole thing, there were three reasons I did it: a) the satire, because, has mentioned in previous Q&As, Monastery is a satire of small-town life, and we all know small-town folks love a good scandal; b) the humour, as I went all out in making an over-the-top situation even more over-the-top; and c) plot convenience because, as that all goes down, Francis is shooting up the Keane house and I didn’t actually want any neighbours to know and call the cops as it wouldn’t serve his arc… at this point.

3. The one storyline that I’m still wondering as to how it will tie into everything is Madam Witch and the whole first-born son hints that are very fairytale-like. Are we meant to take it as an allusion to the paranormal in this story (such as the seances they had in the previous episode) and that more is coming? As it is not outright stated since the murder mystery is the forefront with the town not really caring there’s a werewolf roaming around.

There will be a paranormal twist to the murder mystery and how it’s covered up, I promise – after all, one mustn’t forget that Cassandra owes Madam Witch – but we don’t know what she owes her for.

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As for the werewolf, hmm… Been a while since he’s made an appearance, has it not? Wouldn’t it be a darn shame if one of our protagonists came face-to-face with him in the next episode?

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