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

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

I mentioned this book a while back in my I Love Spring Book Tag, where I mentioned I was anticipating its release. Well, it’s now three months later, I finally got a chance to read the book. Having a pretty good working knowledge of Jack the Ripper, I went into this book expecting for it to be filled with a lot of repetition of information I already knew. However, to my relief, it is actually a really original take on these famous murders.

Release: Feb. 2019

Synopsis: Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane were women who never met, and yet they are tied together due to their deaths at the hands of the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper. This book takes a look before their fateful ends, to examine their lives leading up to their deaths.

Review:

I was really impressed with this book. So often, books on Jack the Ripper’s victims only talk about their last days or weeks, whereas this one goes into detail about their births, lives, and only briefly mentions their deaths. If you go into this book expecting a detailed account of Jack the Ripper, you will be disappointed. Instead, this book created a profile of five women. Each section talks about one women, following the chronological order of her birth to death. I liked this, because it didn’t jump around a lot. Also, the pages are filled with a high level of detail of Victorian England. Saying that, Rubenhold certainly paints these women as victims (not just in death), not accountable for their own actions or decisions in life. When Polly leaves her husband and children, Rubenhold makes it seem that it is her husband’s fault because he was cheating on her, as if Polly could not have stayed. No, Polly made that decision for herself. In this way, I liked the facts filling this book, but I did not always enjoy the commentary by the author.

I think one quote best defines this book, from the beginning of the first chapter: “My intention in writing this book is not to hunt and name the killer. I wish instead to retrace the footsteps of five women…” And I think the book completes this purpose quite well.

Sitting at a little over three hundred pages, I liked that this book did not get into too many unnecessary details. Even if the narration would pause on occasion to give context of the era, it wouldn’t take you out of the life of the women. I liked this, because so many nonfiction I read deviate from the account the book focuses on and will talk for pages or chapters about unnecessary things. This book kept its focus very well, which I appreciated.

Since I know so much about Jack the Ripper, this book was especially meaningful to me because it put each women’s life in context of how she ended up living in such an area. I won’t say the book covered a lot I didn’t know about the time period, since I’ve loved learning about the Victorian era for over a decade, but it did expand on a lot of topics that many authors just skip over (like the difference between the lives of young prostitutes and older ones).

I also found this book pretty tame, considering the subject matter. It doesn’t go into gruesome details of the murders. Don’t get me wrong, it is a dark book, but it’s not unnecessarily detailed on some of the more disturbing aspects of these women’s lives.

It was interesting how the their lives were so similar, even though they never knew each other. Several of them were alcoholics. Several had lost their family early in life, either partially or totally.

Another small thing I liked was the author addressing the women usually by their first name. It gives an informality to the writing, as if these women are near to our hearts. In most books about the victims, I’ve noticed the use of their last names more often, to stay formal in the narrative (so instead of Annie, they’ll call her Chapman). I don’t necessarily dislike formality (I actually love it), but this author using their first name really lends itself to the type of book she’s writing.

Basically, I enjoyed this book. It wasn’t perfect, and some of the author’s bias did work its way unto the page, but for the most part I thought she did a great job laying the information before the reader in a clear but never boring way.

Have you read a book on Jack the Ripper? Does this book look interesting to you? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

11 thoughts on “Book Review: The Five The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

  1. This book sounds fascinating. I imagine none of the five victims could have had a happy life, but it certainly interesting to find out more about them. I used to be such an avid “Ripperologist”. I devoured everything connected to the crimes of Jack the Ripper and knew all the theories. My favourite book on the subject was “The Complete History of Jack the Ripper” by Philip Sugden. I know need to refresh my memory. There were also recent claims that the Jack the Ripper crimes have been sold because the DNA revealed who was the killer. The debate still continues, I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The debate will probably always continue, I suppose. But I was super into the topic too. Haven’t read Sugden’s book on it, but I’ve read several others. It’s such an interesting topic, but I loved how Rubenhold took a very different look at it. And yes, none of the women had happy lives. It’s rather sad, really.

      Liked by 1 person

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