Today I’m sharing my review for The Five, the untold lives of the woman killed by Jack The Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold. I’ve recently started reading historical crime novels and I must say I found this book to be a fascinating read. Read on for my thoughts…..
Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.
What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.
Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.
Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, and gives these women back their stories.
Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper
I have read many true crime books over the years, and they have always focused on infamous killers with little thought given to the victims. I’m sure you can all think of a list of infamous killers, but can you remember any of the victims’ names or their life stories? Probably not I know I can’t, which is desperately sad. This book provides the reader with an incredible insight into the five victims of Jack The Ripper, Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane. Yes, they were victims of the most atrocious crimes, but Helen Rubenhold’s The Five finally gives these women a voice. Beautifully written the author brings 1888 London to life, but more importantly she brings to life the five women, giving them back their dignity, which for almost 150 years they have been cruelly denied.
As a reader of true crime I have read many books on Jack The Ripper and many of them describe the five victims as prostitutes, a fact that obscured the truth about the women’s real life’s, (only one of the five women sold her body for money). Even back in 1888 the victims of Jack The Ripper were blighted by ‘here say’ and speculation, they were shaped and embellished to make the crimes more newsworthy (sound familiar?). As most of the victims had no permanent roof over their heads or a husband to protect them, they were seen to be outcasts and so considered to be corrupt and impure, they faced violence, abuse, lived day to day, hungry, cold and unloved, was it any wonder every single one of the woman had struggled with alcohol addiction.
Towards the end of their short life’s circumstances for each woman changed, either through bad choices or misfortune. Perceived to be either “broken women” or “fallen women” It’s at this point they were treated with contempt, and even in death the rumour mill spewed false accusations and showed little sympathy for the Ripper’s victims. None of the women were treated as individual victims in death, but were banded together as victims of “an unfortunate class”, which made me angry and incredibly sad. For the first time ever someone has taken the time to share their stories, they are desperately sad and harrowing but at the same time we see them as wife’s, daughters, and mothers, who faced adversary, and poverty, where every day was a struggle for survival, sometimes wrong choices were made, but then the choices these women had were very limited by circumstances.
Helen Rubenhold’s descriptions of a London in 1888 are vividly described, the sounds, the smells, the doss houses, overcrowded slums, the pubs, transport you back to an age where poverty, malnutrition and disease were rife. It’s obvious the author has extensively researched her subject. Although some parts are speculative, she has incorporated as much factual detail where ever possible. I should mention, if you’re expecting gruesome details of the murders of these five women, or another theory to the ripper’s identity then this book won’t be for you. If you are looking for a powerful book, that blends true crime and one that’s rich in historical detail, that gives a voice to #FiveWoman, Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane, then The Five is definitely a book I would recommend.
- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday (28 Feb. 2019)