A little known secret about me is that I take great guilty pleasure – and unapologetic enjoyment – in reading about historical conspiracy theories. Not harmful ones that put the blame of the nation’s woes on people groups or deny the existence of undisputable facts (Alex Jones, Sean Hannity, Carson Tucker: I’m looking at you schmucks), nor do I have the patience for baloney ideas about chemtrails, fluoride in the water, or former presidents’ birth certificates. But give me a good literary conspiracy theory, a secret code, or a new way of understanding a familiar narrative, and I’m tremendously content. In many of my own books I’ve pointed out obscure theories about characters’ backgrounds, motives, and choices – my editions of Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, The Turn of the Screw, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Frankenstein all contain allusions to subtextual implications, some of which I’ve never read anywhere else – and I always love stumbling on new ways of understanding the classics. Well, Andrew Struthers has given me just that.
His fascinating tome, “Dracula Incarnate: Unearthing the Definitive Dracula.” Okay, interesting right? Now here’s the kicker: Struthers’ theory attempts to link “Dracula” – the actual manuscript – to the identity of Jack the Ripper. Now if that isn’t fun I don’t know what is! Although I would hardly call myself a Ripperologist, I have studied the case repeatedly since my youth, have watched dozens of documentaries, and read dozens of books on the Ripper, and even used my own process of psychological profiling to identify who I personally believe the ripper to have been.
Few real-life events suggest the Victorian Gothic as purely and effectively as Jack the Ripper: this is why writers have so frequently introduced him to Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll, Dracula, and other fictional icons. The story just seems perfect for fiction (alas, that it is sadly fact). But Struthers – a detective in his own right, worthy of Holmes or Dupin – has seen something linking the factual murders to a novel published nine years later, and his conclusions are delightfully complex.
Originally published in 2016, this is the revised edition, and earlier reviewers on Amazon were anticipating its release this year with enthusiasm. The original release was well-received, and I have no doubt that the second edition will be equally successful. Before I go much further, I will here briefly revert to Struther’s own description of his book to give you a sense of its thesis and style: “Dracula has long been considered the most popular horror story ever written, though the origins of the character have never been investigated further than the point of disproving a definite link with Vlad III The Impaler (The Historical Dracula). What if we were to find positive proof that Stoker's story was in fact based on real events which have been hidden within an unholy grail of code embedded in his research papers for over a century. What if we were to find absolute proof that Stoker was indeed acquainted with the infamous shadowy figure they called The "Ripper" and had wrote his novel Dracula as a direct response to this shocking fact? In short, the true identity of Count Dracula has been discovered, and he was not lying alone in his grave!”
If you are a fan of Edgar Allan Poe’s detective stories (especially “The Gold Bug”), Sherlock Holmes, or true crime novels, this book is for you. Struthers easily demonstrates himself to be a powerhouse of Stoker scholarship (years of work have clearly been invested in this work), and I have never read a more elaborate, byzantine theory.
One word can quickly sum up the principle nature of this theory: anagrams (or should I say "a man's rag"?). This is not the first time anagrams have been used to explore the Ripper case, but it is unquestionably one of the most complex. Struthers pours through vast records of Stoker’s life, the Ripper murders, the Texas Servant Girl Annihilator case, and the writing of the “Dracula” notes and manuscript in a bid to cement a connection between the four. It is a fascinating, elaborate, and very fun read, bearing all the hallmarks of serious study and intense analysis. Some of the claims surprised and fascinated me, some I found myself nodding to in agreement, but all were tremendously intriguing.
If you don’t enjoy this sort of pursuit, you will probably want to pass on the book and leave it on the shelf for eccentrics like myself. It is an eccentric book and “quirky” doesn’t begin to describe its rough-and-tumble approach to true crime: it makes no apologies for having a good time researching the morbid history of the Victorian Era, and if you prefer dry, clinical scholarship, this book is not for you.
But I can tell you what it feels like: it feels like having a conversation with your history buff friends at two in the morning over your third glass of absinthe proceeded by a smoking cheap cigars in the garden. The night is warm and bristling with the music of nocturnal insects. Your voices are deeper from the cigars and your words slower from the absinthe, but there in the dark cover of a porch or in the dim light of a living room, you share the astonishing theories that your group has collectively uncovered. That is what this book feels like as I read it – like a night spent decoding the world with your most introspective friends – and it keeps up that energy from beginning to end.