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Portrait of a Killer:Jack The Ripper — Case Closed – Book Review

portraitofkillerby: Patricia Cornwell

Publisher: Berkley Books (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

Copyright: 2002, ISBN: [0425192733]

Cover: Peter Cotton, Walter Harper

Type: Paperback

Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, December 15, 2003


Summary: The real identity of London’s Jack The Ripper? This book comes up with a better answer than most. The real value is the presentation of police history.

This is the second book in this particular genre to have been reviewed here. The first, BLACK DAHLIA AVENTER – THE TRUE STORY, by Steve Hodel (reviewed here May 2003), concerned the unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, aka, the Black Dahlia. Except for the writing, there was nothing much to appreciate in Hodel’s criminal reconstruction story. Likewise, in Patricia Cornwell’s PORTRAIT OF A KILLER, we are swimming in a thimble.

The very first book this reviewer read about Jack the Ripper, who killed five prostitutes during the fall of 1888 in London’s Whitechapel area, attempted to make a case that the Ripper was really the Duke of Clarence, son of the Prince of Wales. Cornwell rightfully dismisses this idea. She instead has latched onto Walter Sickert, a late 19th century actor turned painter, general rouge and obvious misogynist. Walter Sickert had problems. No doubt. But could he have been the Jack the Ripper? Well, certainly he could have been. Therein is the problem.

Cornwell’s strongest evidence supporting her contention are the watermarks on stationary Jack the Ripper used to write letters taunting the police and the mitochondrial DNA lifted off the postage stamps and envelops of those letters. The more snippets of information one picks up on these tenuous pieces of evidence in reading the book, the more tenuous the pieces become. Long before reaching that conclusion however, you may be bothered by the author’s sudden declaration that Walter Sickert was in fact Jack the Ripper without so much as a preamble of evidence to support the declaration. The declaration occurs on page 6. Reason becomes frayed filaments of words from that point on. There is nothing here one would even call circumstantial which points to Sickert as Jack the Ripper. Sickert was a self-absorbed, morally bankrupt low-life masquerading as an artist who died in January 1942.

It is obvious that Cornwell put a lot of research into this book. It shows. But in attempting to push her thesis, she manages to trip all the reader-beware alarms one brings to these criminal-history reconstructions. It is not the facts that are the problem, it is the way the facts are arranged. We flip in and out of Sickert’s life like a loop-the-loop.

The author is at her best when discussing the history of Scotland Yard and the establishment of municipal police as social institutions. Here she drops the facts into place and they remain as an effective backdrop illuminating how the police handled the gruesome murders before the science of forensics became a staple of criminal investigations. For these little nuggets, PORTRAIT OF A KILLER is worth reading.



Red Mafiya – Review

by: Friedman, Robert I.

Publisher: Berkley Books

Copyright: 2002

Cover: John Fulbrook III

Type: Paperback

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 12/12/2003

Summary: Recommended. The invasion of America by Russian organized crime.

This book chronicles the invasion of America by elements of Russian organized crime. The invasion got underway in the 1970’s with detente. Friedman is very good at flushing out the details of the mobsters he examines, especially the so called first American don, Evsei Agron, and later, the biggest of the big Russian mobsters, Semion Mogilevich.

Reading this book perpetuates the impression-if you ever had one–that Russian immigration to America is tied to Russian organized crime. It’s an impression. It is also wrong. However, Friedman is so focused on his subject that the reader inundated with the criminal nuances of Russians in America. It is obviously not his intent to smear Russian immigrants with the tint of organized crime, but that’s the effect. He does however reveal a few insightful observations.

Under the corrupt, totalitarian practices of communism, the only outlet for individual initiative was the black market. Communism fostered a culture of criminality. The elite of the culture passed through the Gulag-the Soviet prison system which was a society unto itself. From the Gulags emerged present day entrepreneurs or their backers.

Another insightful the author brings to the surface is the role of law enforcement in the world of high finance, as in the international banking system. At one point, Friedman states that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was slow in responding to the threat from Russian organized crime. He goes one to build a fairly strong case, perhaps unwittingly, that it is too late for law enforcement to play catch-up. For instance, a chapter is devoted to the National Hockey League and the supposedly growing influence of the Russian mafiya over players. Of course there is no mob influence in the American NHL. But if there were, would anybody say. Segue into another chapter on banks. Big banks. International banks specifically established to facilitate money laundering do not exist. But if they did, would anyone say?

Here’s the wheeze about organized crime. When crime becomes so pervasive that everyone has their finger in the pie, we’re no longer talking crime, we’re talking high finance. In that sort of environment, law enforcement becomes an irritant. In reading Friedman’s work, the reader is left with the impression-that word again, impression-that the guys in the white hats have come very late to the party and the intoxicant has now become the tonic. For example, Friedman states that in 1995, when the CIA sent Vice President Gore a report on Vikto Chernomyrdin, Russian prime minister of extraordinary wealth, detailing the corrupt source of his wealth, Gore scribbled “a barnyard epithet across the file” and refused to see any other damning reports about Russian officials. Amen-or, who you gonna call?

I would recommend “Red Mafiya” for one reason specifically. The author state very flatly in a chapter called “Global Conquest”, that “the Russian Mafiya is made up of multipurpose, entrepreneurial master criminals”. In other words, they Russian Mafiya is not all Russian. This book shines a little light on the criminal enterprises that are cheating the American people as well as those of Russia, Israel, and the world. The book is a place to start if you want a ground level course in Russian organized crime.



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