Neil R. Storey
Sutton Publishing, 2004
Hardcover. Illustrated. 192 pages.
ISBN: 0 8509 3844 7 . Casebook Review:
It is very difficult to classify this book. The text consists of 366 short entries – one for every day of the year (leap year included) – each pertaining in some way to London’s East End in the time period between 1870 and 1900. We’re given a paragraph or two for each day. Some entries deal directly with the Ripper murders, while others touch on events or people who were involved in some tangential way with the Autumn of Terror. Many entries deal with entirely unrelated events such as cases of wife-beating, suicide, accidental death, prostitution, drunkenness, and thievery. Each day’s entry is more or less self-contained, and there is no linear story to be told here (though several entries in the September/October region of the book tend to blend together as there are proportionately more 1888 entries in those months). A small proportion of dates (apparently not newsworthy) are filled with non-date-specific overviews of particular aspects of London society – prisons, food, musicians, professions, police procedurals, etc.
Storey writes in the introduction that his goal in the Grim Almanac is to examine “the wider picture of crime, criminals, life and death” in the London of Jack the Ripper’s time. There can be no doubt that he succeeds in this endeavor. His patchwork of East London vignettes comes together to form a rather colorful overview of the crime and debauchery of the East End. It’s an intensely human and personal examination. You’ll read about women throwing vitriol at their husbands (and in one case, her husband’s mistress), about boys getting run over by horses, men stealing eggs, mothers maltreating their children, husbands killing their wives – and the list goes on. Of course you’ll also read about events directly related to the Ripper crimes, and events tangentially related, such as the Princess Alice disaster and the Bloody Sunday riots,
The book is lavishly illustrated throughout with photographs and illustrations from the period, many of which will be new to even the most seasoned Ripperologist. (Many of these come from the collection of Stewart Evans, to whom this book is dedicated).
All in all, an extremely interesting read. It’s a book which can be read either from start to finish, or in short bursts, picking a random page and reading just a few entries at a time. There is no linear narrative so it makes no difference where you begin.
Nevertheless, the Grim Almanac shouldn’t be confused as a reference book, despite the word “almanac” in the title. There is no index, and no practical method of organization (though it begins January 1st and ends December 31st, this is just a stylistic convention – the entries aren’t chronological, as the time-span between any two entries can be as much as thirty years) – so finding a particular entry at a moment’s notice could take quite a bit of work. Its more of a casual read – a series of vignettes and anecdotes which together form a fairly wide-ranging picture of what it was like to live in Jack the Ripper’s London. Recommended.