“The common thief is not distinguished for manual

dexterity and accomplishment, like the pickpocket

or mobman, nor for courage, ingenuity and skill like

the burglar, but is characterised by low cunning and

stealth and hence he is termed the sneak and is

despised by the higher classes of thieves”

So wrote Henry Mayhew in his classic study of impoverished London, `London labour and the London poor.’

Ian Parsons novel `A Secret Step’ is a tour-de-force of East London’s underclass between 1888 and 1941, and the blighted, twisted lives it’s characters live.

It is a work in which the main character grows up in a hellish environment and becomes firstly an apprentice mobsman and then a fully fledged one on entering adulthood. In the era of the 1960’s he would have been enrolled as a `face` in the Kray firm.

He is an individual fashioned by the poverty which sears across every page of Ian’s book. And lurking in the shadows of this purblind landscape is the East End’s criminal of criminals, Jack the Ripper!

Ian strips away the obscene glamour which has built up around this degraded creature and portrays him as the sort of man he undoubtedly was, a low grade criminal who fits Mayhews criteria as a `sneak`, the underclass of the underclass.

We have to wait until the end of the novel to see him get his just deserts but it is a journey worth making and leaves us with a feeling of satisfaction, the more so because it gives Ian’s main character the opportunity to make amends for his own sins.


Enjoy your read


Bill Beadle
Jack the Ripper Author and Vice President of
The Whitechapel Society

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