The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold

Eight stars

Hallie Rubenhold has come up with a fabulous piece of non-fiction with this book, examine one of England’s most notorious unsolved serial killing sprees. The Jack the Ripper murders rocked London (and the world) in 1888, though no one has ever been formally fingered as the killer. With the euphoria of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee still lingering, a number of women were found slain in the streets of London in the summer and autumn of 1888. These women received some press, mostly speculative about their means of living, though few know anything about them. Rubenhold seeks to change that by developing brief biographies of the five women and offering the reader some insight into the lives they lived before being found murdered. While socio-economic means surely shaped some of their lives, one cannot simply lump all the victims as prostitutes and turn a blind eye. Rubenhold seeks not only to personify them, but to offer the reader something about their upbringing and means of living. Some readers will be shocked to discover the information that Rubenhold is able to unearth, while others will feel it only solidifies their already firmly-held beliefs. At a time when serial murder is anything but uncommon, it is refreshing that someone has taken an interest in the victims, rather than sensationalising the killer, who basks in the limelight for eternity. Well-paced and fabulously detailed, Hallie Rubenhold impresses the attentive reader with her research. Recommended for those who love delving deeper into the murders of Victorian England, as well as the reader who loves biographical pieces with a twist.

I came across this book quite by accident, which can sometimes prove to be the best sort of reading experiences. While I am no Jack the Ripper fanatic, I have taken an interest in the murders and was eager to see what Rubenhold had to say. She reiterates the contrast between England’s upper classes who were still celebrating the long reign of their monarch with the lower classes who had little chance of ever seeing riches or notoriety. The seedy underbelly of the streets of this European mega city are not lost on the reader, who is given so much information. As Rubenhold suggests, many simply gloss over the names of the victims and want to learn about this killer, though it is the lives of these women that really makes for something worth reading. Some knew only a life of poverty and disease, while one came from abroad and settled in a new location to begin afresh. The biographies presented are thorough, though not exhaustive by any means, which gives the reader insight into their lives while also leaving much open to interpretation and perhaps further investigation. I am not aware of anyone else who has taken the time to develop a detailed story of the women whose lives helped develop the notoriety that Jack the Ripper earned, heightened makes this unique piece all the more exciting. Detailed chapters flow easily and the five women have their lives contrasted and compared by the reader who has the time to do so. Rubenhold does well to present her approach and does so in a concise and easy to comprehend manner. A great biographical piece about the most unusual topic. Do take some time to check it out. You’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Kudos, Madam Rubenhold, for this insightful piece. I hope to find more of your writing soon, to further my education even more.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: