BOOK REVIEW: Mark Blacklock: I’m Jack

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Out now
Published by Granta
More information can be found on the Granta Books website []

Review by Chloe Allan

I’m Jack is a frightening disclosure – a coming together of letters, confessions and reports about sensationally named Wearside Jack. In the book, author Mark Blacklock weaves strands of evidence together seamlessly in a bid to piece together facts – not journalised fiction – of one of the most perverse hoaxes in criminal history.

This novel is neither fact nor fiction. I’m not even sure if you can class it as a novel, because it’s not fictitious. However, it is important. It provides a modern and innovate way of showing us the depths of the confidential world of policing, as well as the innermost thoughts of a clearly mentally ill man.

However, this book can still be analysed in terms of its creativity and characterisation. The author clearly demonstrates that he knows how to embed storytelling into his work. He layers character by tactfully choosing where to place facts. For example, Blacklock drops John Humble’s letters, born from loneliness and suppressed illness, to George, an ex police officer on the original Yorkshire Ripper case. He does this between summaries of Leeds Crown Court cases and witness statements that testify to the criminal’s obvious drinking problem and criminality. Continually lacing this into the book builds up suspense and shows the distinction between who Humble is and who he thinks he is.

While the novel concerns itself with facts, there are elements of character. For someone like I, perhaps too young or unaware of these murders and the crimes, the letters Humble wrote to George seemed to be unwanted. The silence of George, and his presence being evident only through references made to him, made Humble’s letters seem unwanted and show him to be delusional and persistent. However, after only seeing pieces of George’s character throughout the book, when I eventually learned that he’s not as expected, my whole impression and understanding of John Humble altered.

It seemed these letters were something expressive and the author presented this commendably, showing his mental illness through the positioning of the facts without altering them.

It’s hard to assess the author in terms of his book’s content because it isn’t of his creating. However, the letters of John Humble are filled with colloquialisms that can make the book, at times, difficult to read. In fact, the letters are hard to understand and the meaning can, at times, be skewed by the lack of grammar. The book, however, is still hard to tear yourself away from. Perhaps it’s human nature, but we are all interested in the psychology of others and, when we are presented with the facts alongside the fiction Humble has invented, it’s almost too hard to put Blacklock’s book to the side. It stays with you for a long time.

This work attempts to answer what is still unsaid about one of the most intricate and illusive criminal cases in modern history. The author’s commitment to providing readers with the truth, stripped back of the urge to elaborate or create fiction, keeps I’m Jack objective and free from patronisation.

I’m Jack is about the man who faked the hoax Jack The Ripper calls that distracted police, delaying them from finding Peter Sutcliffe. Its objectivity is what makes it unique. Questions about morality, responsibility and the place of sanity underpin Blacklock’s revolutionary presentation. His talent of being able to tell a story without elaboration is unlike anything else, making this book deserving of recommendation.

Chloe Allan is a Reviewer in Residence at Durham Book Festival.

Reviewers in Residence is a Cuckoo Young Writers programme ,which allows young critics to develop an in-depth relationship with a venue or art form, and take part in exclusively tailored writing masterclasses.