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Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed
Portrait of a Killer Jack the Ripper Case Closed
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Between August and November 1888, at least seven women were murdered in London's Whitechapel area. The gruesome nature of their deaths caused panic and fear in the East End for months, and gave rise to the sobriquet that was to become shorthand for a serial killer -- Jack the Ripper. — For over a hundred years the murders have remained among ...  more »
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ISBN-13: 9780425192733
ISBN-10: 0425192733
Publication Date: 11/2003
Pages: 384
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.

3.4 stars, based on 352 ratings
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
Other Versions: Hardcover
Reviews: Member | Amazon | Write a Review

Top Member Book Reviews

reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 86 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 11
I've read a majority or Patricia Cornwell's novels - loved some, liked some, not so crazy about some - so I was interested to see how she would address this case with her background. I was not disappointed. This book is well-written, and she uses her forensic and criminal justice knowledge, storytelling skills and talent for research very well. It is written in a methodical and suspenseful way and I was hard-pressed to put it down.

Another reviewer mentioned something similar to this: By the end of this book, the author has me 100% totally convinced that she has indeed solved this infamous mystery. But I later realized that perhaps it was her ability to tell a tale, and perhaps her ability to have the clues point in the direction she wanted them to that made this story so convincable. You WANT to believe she's right, she did such a great job with this book. But a year after it came out I happened across a documentary that convinced me this suspect was NOT Jack The Ripper...

So who knows who's right and who's wrong...I don't think we will ever truly know, but if you're intrigued by this mystery as I always have been, I highly recommend this book. It's a different take, contains a lot of information and was just plain interesting to read.
srfbluemama avatar reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 80 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
I found the book to be interesting at first, but I lost interest about half-way through. I think it makes an excellent case for Sickert possibly writing some of the Ripper letters, but that is all. I didn't find any of the other evidence to be strong enough for me to conclude that he was definitely the killer.
sevenspiders avatar reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 73 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
I have never read any of Patricia Cornwell's mystery books, but if they are as narratively compelling as Portrait of a Killer, they must surely be page-turners. She knows how to characterize a psychopath; how to illustrate a depraved and violent mind. But I'm not convinced that Walter Sickert, 19th century artists and minor celebrity, was such a mind, or that if he was, he was the infamous Jack the Ripper.
Cornwell is clearly meticulous in her research, but here she seems to have been meticulous with a purpose. She concluded that Sickert was the Ripper, and gathered the evidence that supported her theory, giving minimal attention to the evidence that opposes it. Her argument would have been more convincing had she elaborated on how she determined Sickert was the Ripper; what were the steps that lead her to that conclusion? As presented, her epiphany seems like a bolt from the blue.

Cornwell's main pieces of evidence raise many interesting questions about Sickert. He had a deformity due to botched surgery that made him impotent, his artwork is largely misogynistic, many of the Ripper letters were written with artists' tools. All of these things indicate that he may have been a repressed and violent man, but not that he was Jack the Ripper. But Cornwell's case with these points makes fascinating reading. Her more tangible, physical proof is less fascinating. The only point in the book where my eyes began to cross was her description of different watermarks in different 19th century stationary that Sickert and others used. More interestingly, several investigators are trying to get DNA evidence from the envelopes and stamps on the Ripper letters, but again, the most this could prove would be that Sickert (and many other pranksters) liked to bait the police.

Still, Cornwell presents a richly detailed portrayal of a unique and disturbing individual. I had never heard of Sickert before reading Portrait, and I can see how he and his artwork would capture the imagination. Sickert, from Cornwell's research, seems to have been a dark and complicated man. And the London of his time was undeniably a dark and complicated place. It was an intriguing read, and I enjoyed hearing Cornwell's argument although I remain unconvinced.
bookmama101 avatar reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 4 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
This is an excellent book. I love the history surrounding Jack the Ripper and if you do you will love this book too. Ms. Cornwell did an excellent job with her investigative work. I finished with the feeling that she had found out the true identity of Jack the Ripper.
jjmachshev avatar reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 21 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Very interesting explanation for Ms. Cornwall's theory on the identity of Jack the Ripper. Well researched, well deducted, and well written.
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reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 3 more book reviews
Very interesting book!
reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 147 more book reviews
I've read a few of Cornwell's Scarpetta books--borrowed from my sister--and thought they were pretty good. The Ripper book was published in 2002. When I heard about it and that Cornwell had spent (by her estimation) $1 million on researching this, I was very interested in reading the book. My sister bought it for me. I read it way back when and thought Cornwell made a decent case for Sickert being the Ripper.

As I'm now downsizing, I am posting most of my books on I found this book tucked away in an end table and decided to reread it before posting. I only got about halfway through and decided to hang it up. What I found most interesting was learning how the folks in the East End lived, how hospitals were places people didn't want to go, etc. Made me thankful that I live in more modern times.

Based on Cornwell's research of Sicket, he sounds like he perhaps wasn't a very pleasant man and rather an odd duck. Cornwell goes into great detail about Sickert's childhood (which isn't necessarily a bad thing) and his physical problem that she's certain is probably the root of his behavior. Cornwell's conclusion that Sicket is the Ripper is largely based on speculation--she reads things into his paintings, says it's very possible that Sickert crossed paths with the police as he (Sickert) was leaving the scene of his murders, etc.

Cornwell goes into excruciating detail about the paper used to write the letters (and because Sickert apparently had the same type of paper that he used when writing friends, etc. that is one more piece of "proof" that he's the Ripper). She also talked in great detail about various things (can't recall a specific example) that really added nothing to her claim that Sickert was the Ripper. I wondered if she was including this extraneous information to reach a certain page length or if it was to impress the reader with how thorough she was in her research.

I got up to page 168 (book is 361 pages) where Cornwell is talking about doing DNA testing on envelope flaps and stamps. At this point I decided I was done. I could not continue reading her ad nauseum description of the testing (and after the first round of 55 samples yielded NOTHING, she decided to keep going with further testing).
jenart avatar reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on
I really enjoyed this book. Quite thrilling, had me turning the pages. I don't know very much about Patricia Cornwell or any of her other books, because I am not into horror fiction, but I was interested in the story behind Jack the Ripper, and this book did it for me. The information contained in this book is really interesting and convincing enough to have me believing who she names the killer. Wonderful read!
reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 13 more book reviews
Fascinating study of the killer, with actual photo crime scene photos.
SuDongpo avatar reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 37 more book reviews
A case study in obsession. Cornwell apparently spent major amounts of her own money in developing this theory, and in the end, all the evidence boils down to a dislike of the suspect and of his art, and smoke and mirrors. Could she be right? Could this new suspect REALLY be the answer to the riddle of Jack The Ripper? Sure, I suppose it's possible, but until the development of a DNA profile linking him to, at a minimum, the Ripper letters, hang on to your objectivity. We truly seem to be no closer to proving the identity of the Ripper than Scotland Yard was 110 years ago.
ray441 avatar reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 2 more book reviews
While appreciate the time, effort and money that Ms. Cornwell put into this work. There are several problems with it. 1. The obnoxious title "...Case Closed", as if this is even remotely THE definitive work on the subject. 2. She is dead wrong about who Jack the Ripper was. (John Douglas, the founder of FBI profiling, has stated the exact personality type of the Ripper and it was not at all that of Sickert. John Douglas and other FBI profilers have also stated that this would be a RELATIVELY simple case to solve if it happened today.) 3. As other reviewers have stated, the author starts off with an assumption and builds facts around it. 4. There are lots of better books on Jack the Ripper, two of gthem were written by Paul Begg. 5. And worth mentioning again, the obnoxious title.
GainesvilleGirl avatar reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 215 more book reviews
I believe that Patricia Cornwell would not have invested the very large sum of money, and the valuable time it took to research, investigate, and write this book if she didn't feel deep inside of herself she could solve this mystery. She used the most up to date forensic tools possible and was assisted by very knowledgeable people. I read the book, and read it again, and it made more sense to me than any of the other books I have read on the subject, and I have read most of them. Until there is better research done and another person is found who is a better suspect than this one, I'm going to "close the book" on Jack the Ripper. I highly recommend this title to anyone who has followed the story of Jack the Ripper down through the recent years, and who still has a lot of questions about this brutal serial killer of another time.
reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 42 more book reviews
a very good read. patricia is a talent.
mizparker avatar reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 87 more book reviews
One would have to be fascinated with both true crime and the nuances of forensic science to be interested in this one. Cornwell is good as usual, but the book itself is quite dry unless you are interested in the science behind going into catching Jack the Ripper once and for all. A story, it is not.
BaileysBooks avatar reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 491 more book reviews
I commend Patricia Cornwell for the effort she put into this book, for the research she funded from her own pocket, and for the new forensic testing she performed on the Ripper letters. She wrote a very good book and for anyone who is fascinated by the enduring mystery that is Jack the Ripper, this is one more book to enjoy.

However, the book gave me the impression that Cornwell got the cart before the horse. Instead of looking at the facts objectively and formulating a conclusion, she started out with her conclusion (that Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper) and ever so gently bent her research to support that conclusion. She made a lot of assumptions, and failed to take seriously the fact that Sickert was out of the country during the time of the Ripper murders. It is true that Sickert was involved, that he did write a lot of Ripper letters, and that he depicted the murders in his art, but those things alone do not make him the killer.

For a more factual and objective look at all things Ripper, including a list of the most popular suspects, I recommend Paul Begg's Jack the Ripper: The Facts. It reads like a history book but is just what it claims to be, a book of pretty dry and unbiased facts. Begg suspects that the killer is a man named Kosminski, but as always, it is up to the reader to decide for themselves.

In all, Cornwell's book is good. It makes you think. It paints an interesting portrait of possibilities. But it is also not quite the 'case closed' argument that it claims to be, in my opinion at least. It's still a great read, and for that I still recommend it.
reviewed Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed on + 2 more book reviews
Patricia Cornwall, author of the Dr. Kay Scarpetta novels has written her theory of the famous Jack the Ripper and she develops her case with her forensic background. Interesting reading, non-fiction.