BOOK REVIEW: Portrait Of A Killer – by Patricia Cornwell


Title: Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper – Case Closed
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Genre: History, Non Fiction, True Crime
First published: 2002
Finished Reading: June 12th 2014
Pages: 383
Rating 2,5

“And suddenly the world was filled with wooden faces and flat voices – and, you were alone.”


I have to admit that before I started reading Portrait Of A KillerI didn’t know much more about the Jack The Ripper case other than that he was quite a violent serial killer and mostly attacked prostitutes. It is also the first time I’ve read something by Patricia Cornwell, and I have the feeling this nonfiction investigation of the 19th century killer didn’t show me a complete image of Cornwell as a writer. Although the story started interesting, I soon started wondering whether the subtitle Jack The Ripper – Case Closed would have been a bit of an exaggeration. I couldn’t help but feel the evidence she presented was mostly circumstantial and the explanations sometimes quite shaky while she was trying to convince the reader the true identity of Jack The Ripper: a famous painter called Walter Sickert. Cornwell used modern technology when trying to find more physical evidence to build her case, but most results came back inconclusive. And after finishing Portrait Of A Killer, I don’t think Walter Sickert would have ever been convicted of the murders if she presented the case as described in her book to court. Yet another big Ha Ha from our fiend Jack The Ripper…


The story about the life in Victorian England and France itself was quite interesting. Cornwell was able to give us an insight into the life as it would have been like during the 19th century. In describing the lives of Sickert, the various victims and the cops trying to find the killer, we were able to see how different social classes lived before, during and after the killings taking place in 1888-1889. The killings are brutal and close to butchery, and it is scary to even think that a human being would be able to afflict that kind of damage without feeling remorse. But then again, Jack The Ripper was nothing less than a monster, although a brilliant one.


I just wished Cornwell would have kept her opinion slightly to herself instead of trying to force the identity of Jack The Ripper on us. Sure, after all she told about Walter Sickert he definitely looks suspicious. But without accompanying evidence, her claim of whodunnit for me wasn’t rightfully made. Or at least not when selling the book as a nonfiction investigation. Sickert might have done it, but the facts are more than a hunderd years old, and for now there is no way to be certain. I would go for reasonable doubt, not case closed.

If you want to learn a bit more of the lives of the victims and Walter Sickert, this still might be an interesting read. Just beware of the circumstancial evidence and be sure to regularly take a step back and look critically at the conclusions Cornwell draws. I don’t think this was the best example of her work though. I will be reading one of the Kay Scarpetta novels by the same author lined up in my TBR list in the near future so I can see what her fiction writing is like. As for Portrait Of A Killer, for me it’s book closed and locked away…

On changes and improvements of It’s All About Books

Some may notice I am in the process of making some changes to my blog. What once started as a simple list of books and a simple way for me to track the books I’ve read, now has grown into something more elaborated. I’ve realized the way I write my reviews has changed over time. They have become a lot more detailed, and I’m now in the process of finishing and altering older reviews to my newer standards. Those changes include:

  • A new rating system: which hopefully allows a better and quicker overview of my general opinion of the books I’ve read without having to read the whole review… Their respective meanings you can find in this post.
  • More detailed general information: including now the date the book was first published and any other extra information (like if it belongs to a series, whether it was written in a different language originally or read in a different language than English).
  • Longer reviews: I’ve noticed that some of my older reviews are rather short and lack important details of the story and/or don’t express my opinion very well. I’m trying to improve all of them, although that may take quite a lot of time.
  • More tags: for all the tag lovers out there. Just trying to make it easier to find the books I’ve read…

I’m also going to try and participate more in the community, and I will be featuring new, not book review posts… One of them will be the Top Ten Tuesday featured at The Broke And The Bookish. The new topics will most likely also include Teaser Tuesdays,  WWW Wednesdays and Friday Finds originally featured at Should Be Reading. All coming soon!

My Very Own Rating System


It’s All About Books has evolved over time. Looking critically at my blog the other day, I realized I needed to create a new rating system for myself. A system where my general opinion of the books I’ve read would become clear without having to read the whole review, and hopefully allows for a better overview… So drum roll… I’m introducing you to my very own rating system. I do not claim originality since the 5 star system including half stars I used has probably been used a million times before. I’ve only added my own descriptions to the different ratings (they roughly translate to a 0-10 score). Their respective meanings are written below:

DNF. I didn’t even bother to finish this one. Either horrible or definitely not for me!
Almost too difficult to reach the last page. Yuk!
Boy, this one gave me a hard time. Not a book to touch again. 
Rating 1,5
The story wasn’t horrible, but there still isn’t another word to describe it but ‘bad’.
Rating 2
It was ok. But mostly ‘meh’. 
Rating 2,5
I give this one the benefit of the doubt. Nothing too exciting
Rating 3
It was a nice read, but not fantastic. 
Rating 3,5
Great read. Really entertaining!
Rating 4
Wow, this was really good. Close to amazing!
Rating 4,5
This one was almost perfect. Surely fantastic!
Rating 5
Absolutely and entirely mind blowing! I suggest you to pick up a copy now.

I hope this will make it easier to read and understand my reviews!


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