Robson Books, August 2004
550pp, illustrated, bib., index
Where to begin?
First off, although technically a new edition of Begg's earlier Uncensored Facts, in truth Facts (2004) is a completely new and different animal. Its nearly twice as long as its predecessor, and frankly, much better written. Most importantly, it is perhaps the single most comprehensive and up-to-date overview of the Ripper case currently on the market. Ladies and gentlemen, we may very well have our first "Sugden" of the 21st century.
(For those new to the case, Philip Sugden's The Complete History of Jack the Ripper has generally been considered the single-best book-length, non-suspect-oriented overview of the case since its original publication in 1994. A new paperback edition was recently released in 2002, but disappointingly it offered only a new introduction - the main text remained unchanged from the previous edition.)
Begg covers all aspects of the case with his usual eye for detail (and the occasional amusing tangent). Social conditions, police, government, suspects, coroners, doctors, victims, witnesses... every aspect of the case is laid out for the reader. Begg covers all victims from the mythical 'Fairy Fay' through to Frances Coles, but only the canonical five victims (and Tabram) get their own chapters. Similarly, dozens of suspects are discussed but only the four major police suspects (Ostrog, Kosminski, Druitt and Tumblety) are explored in depth. The Royal Conspiracy theories, along with Maybrick and Sickert, are covered more briefly in the final chapter, and lesser-known suspects are peppered throughout the earlier parts of the text.
Begg finds fault with some widely-accepted "facts" of the case. He suggests that perhaps Charles Warren was in fact much more capable than most previous authors have allowed; at least, says Begg, he was certainly not the bumbling police commissioner many earlier books and television specials have made him out to be. Suspect-wise, Begg doesn't offer a clear-cut favorite, though contextually it is clear that Anderson's "Polish Jew" remains his favorite.
The main selling point for Facts, however, and the main reason why I feel it is one of the most important books recently published on the case, is that it is incredibly comprehensive and up-to-date. If you haven't had a chance to catch up on the amazing research that's been performed by authors and researchers such as Neal Shelden, Chris Scott, Stepan Poberowski, Keith Skinner, Alex Chisholm and a slew of others over the past several years, don't worry - Begg's got you covered. It's all inside Facts. Every useful nugget that's appeared in print or online in the past decade seems to have been compiled into this book, making it essential reading for anyone interested in the case.
Highly recommended, and certainly not to be missed. Sadly Amazon.com doesn't seem to be stocking it at the moment, but North American customers should pay the extra 3-4 dollars shipping and order it from Amazon.co.uk, or from their local bookdealer. Whether or not it stands up to Sugden is perhaps a matter of personal taste, but I would wager that the vast majority of the Ripper audience would have to concede that at the very least, Begg's Facts deserves to be listed as one of the most comprehensive books ever published on the Ripper case.