Hundreds of researchers and no less than ten generations have tried to unravel who was the mysterious character known the world over as Jack the Ripper. In most cases, the novels have focused particularly on the police plot and delving into the London underworld from which almost all of the victims came. The identity of the first serial killer in history has never been established with certainty. Discovering who was behind this irrepressible drive to eliminate the prostitutes who worked in the Whitechapel neighbourhood with great effusion of blood has consumed the efforts of detectives, writers, journalists and even seasoned BBC documentary makers, but it has also fascinated their counterparts in many other parts of the world.
No one, however, had until now ventured to conceive a novel in which behind Jack the Ripper was the hand of Walter Sickert, one of the most influential painters on the British scene in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Until now, when Juan de Oñate Algueró has brought out 'Summa Mortis' (Larrad Ediciones, 409 pages).
With a degree in Geography and Art History, Oñate already offered us his qualities for intrigue in 'The Peruggia Effect', about the episode of the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre Museum and Pablo Picasso's involvement in that crime. Now he uses the research of historian Paula Fierros to try to prove that Walter Sickert and Jack the Ripper were in fact the same person. Fierros, a lecturer in the Faculty of Philosophy and Arts at the Autonomous University of Madrid, has also turned the possible clarification of Jack the Ripper's identity into an obsession.
Sickert was not just anyone, although he is presented in the novel as "an obscure impressionist painter". Born in Munich in 1860 to artist parents, and emigrating with his family to London in 1868, he became a friend and disciple of Degas, and finally an indispensable artistic link between France and Great Britain when Paris and London coincided in some of the most fertile periods of avant-garde artistic intensity.
Between August and November 1888 the mysterious serial killer murdered Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jean Kelly. Scotland Yard thought it had found the Ripper after arresting the main suspects, but the hypothesis vanished when between December 1888 and February 1891 the dismembered bodies of Rose Mylett, Alice McKenzie, Frances Coles and a torso whose owner was never identified turned up. According to Oñate's thesis, Sickert was obsessed with the figure of the serial killer, which led Paula Fierros to construct the thesis that he and the Ripper were in fact one and the same person.
With such succulent ingredients, Oñate builds a powerful fiction, in which he introduces with ease his great knowledge of art and of the competition, jealousy, envy and other passions that permeate the air of this environment. He gives it a dizzying thriller pace and a narrative pulse favoured by an imagination that could at least be described as overflowing.