July 19, 2019
Not a shred of evidence: Herne Bay gripped by “book ripper” mystery
by Tom Clayton
Oh boy, do we love a slightly twee mystery here in the UK.
What’s that? The vicar’s going frantic because someone stole the collection plate and upset the communion goblets during the Sunday morning service, and the entire congregation is under suspicion…? There’s been a spate of pear-scrumping from the local orchards, and the lead suspect is either i) a horse, or ii) two men dressed as a horse…? Someone rigged the village baking competition so their banoffee pie would triumph over Mrs. Fitzgibbon’s twelve-time champion plum duff…? PUT ALL OF IT IN NOVEL FORM AND INJECT IT DIRECTLY INTO MY CEREBRAL CORTEX.
Anyway. It appears that just such a slightly twee (but also slightly worrying) mystery is unfurling in Herne Bay, a charming seaside town in Kent. Last week it emerged, in a story first reported by Alison Flood in the Guardian, that a number of second-hand book stores, as well as the local library, had been subject to unusual acts of vandalism: somebody was ripping the pages of books horizontally in half before replacing them back on the shelves. Reportedly around 100 books had been tampered with as of this week—with no leads pointing to a culprit.
Somewhat inevitably, the miscreant has been dubbed “The Book Ripper,” and the story has captured the imaginations of many book-related folk online, with Canongate (jokingly) suggesting ‘THE HARSHEST POSSIBLE PUNISHMENT’. Speaking to the Guardian, local bookseller Ryan Campbell explained how he became suspicious:
“We think it’s been going on for a few months but it’s hard to tell – if you find a ripped book in a secondhand shop you don’t think too much about it, so it’s taken us a while to piece it together. But whatever this person has been doing has been escalating,”
Adding that he was “Not trying to be too Sherlock Holmes about it,” Campbell nevertheless notes that the perpetrator has a “quite distinctive rip.” Reportedly local vigilantes have been staking out the bookshops and Herne Bay Library in the hope of catching the Ripper in the act; unsuccessfully thus far.
All this really needs is for a local amateur sleuth to crack on with the case and write up their experiences in a charming detective novel called “A Funny Herne of Events” or similar. Perhaps with a ripped page or two somewhere near the end.
On a more serious and responsible note, the Guardian‘s article also rightly notes that the behaviour of the Ripper is, sadly, not suggestive of an entirely happy or well person. And while the story is a good one, we of course wish them all the best. We love books, but people come first. Always.
Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.