Book Review – “London Serial Killers”

The capital of the UK has had more than its fair share of serial murder over the years – indeed, it was the hunting ground of arguably the most infamous and unidentified one of all time – so it would seem inevitable that a book entitled London Serial Killers would one day find its way to publication, for there are plentiful enough to make an interesting study and account.

In “London Serial Killers”, author Jonathan Oates has done just that. Now, if you are an enthusiast of crime, I believe you will fall into one of two types – you will digest anything on the subject, regardless of the time, location, or status of the case, purely out of interest to discover more; or you will be very specific in your choice of reading – you’ll know what you want to read about from the merest of synopsis of the case, and will often overlook some in favour of the more familiar crimes. I fall very much into the former of this category, and always approach every subject I read about with an open mind – to digest details of something I’ve maybe not read of, or to remind myself of cases I am familiar with – but with the anticipation of being rewarded with nuggets of further knowledge and detail concerning the case that I didn’t have a chapter before.

I was particularly impressed within Jonathan’s work that he has devoted a sizeable portion of the book to historical and celebrated cases of poisoning, a choice method of murder of generations gone by – and I invite the reader to digest as to what is a perfect insight into the Deptford, Southwark and Lambeth cases – you won’t find a better stepping stone. There are other celebrated cases included within here – the names of Christie and Haigh should be familiar enough ones to the true crime enthusiast, but perhaps less so the cases of George Joseph Smith, or Gordon Cummins – each of which are often surprisingly overlooked, for as fascinating studies as the former pair are, the latter are equally so – and are not names which would roll off the tongue. I was also impressed with the author’s curating unsolved cases to pull together an account of other possible, unidentified, serial killers operating within the capital in the latter years of the nineteenth century, and the early years of the twentieth. Like these, each case study within is methodically and fully researched, creating a comprehensible account that for any first time learner of the chapter’s subject would be the equivalent of Guide Note, and for the more digested reader, would bring undoubtedly further titbits of knowledge. There are some 16 pages of photographs relating to cases mentioned within – to me, always a plus point in any true crime book – and the entire text is fully referenced and indexed in detail.

If I had any minor points to raise – and this is perhaps my own preference coming to the fore here – then firstly, the case of Jack The Ripper is featured within. It wouldn’t seem right to write a book entitled “London Serial Killers” without mentioning the Ripper, I get that, but to me, I thought this was included at the expense of other, perhaps more unfamiliar – and certainly more interesting – cases from the capital. I must stress though, this is not to say the account is not comprehensible – it’s spot on. I was also surprised somewhat that the likes of Kenneth Erskine, or Colin Ireland – both of which are examples of cases in the capital  involving many more victims than some mentioned here, amongst a number of more modern day others I could mention. Whilst the cases included here are each interesting ones, I do feel that a truer reflection of the book would have included a timeline as part of the title.

Saying this, if it may sound somewhat harsh, you honestly review or you don’t, plus I speak from some three decades of having true crime as my sole go to genre of reading, and now researching, writing and broadcasting upon the subject professionally – so am always that bit more critical, though in a constructive way. “London Serial Killers” is a comprehensive, well written and interesting book that any reader will undoubtedly digest and enjoy, and it is one that I recommend thoroughly.  

The True Crime Enthusiast

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