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

I am not as much of a reader as I would like to be. I am one of those who finds a million excuses to not sit down and read, always finding jobs I feel need doing first. However, back in March, with lockdown imminent I popped into Waterstones to do my own version of bulk buying and not the toilet and pasta kind. Yep, I bulk bought books.





I decided to add to my growing Stephen King collection, because what woman in horror doesn’t love a good book from ‘The King’ of horror. Picked up a couple of other books that looked interesting and up my street, and then as I went to checkout my eye was drawn to a book spotlighted in the new releases section. That book was entitled The Five. Written by Hallie Rubenhold, a bestselling and award-winning social historian, The Five seeks to explore the lives of the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper.

Jack the Ripper, a name everyone knows, but who he was, nobody knows. Jack is the most famous serial killer throughout history, his crimes are known throughout the world, the names of his victims are known by only a few. Their professions however, we know.. prostitution, or so we are led to believe. This is the question that Rubenhold seeks to answer with The Five. Rubenhold seeks to take the focus away from Jack and place the spotlight on the women who made him famous. Serial killers often kill in order to seek fame and infamy and this likely started with Jack, a man who haunted Victorian London during the autumn of 1888. He was this mysterious figure killing women in a horrific manner around Whitechapel and taunting police with letters before he suddenly disappearing. He was never found, his identity never revealed and these women never saw justice. Yet it is this unknown figure that people fixate on, so much so that some people study him intently attempting to figure out his true identity, but the one thing we do know is the names and identities of his five canonical victims, but that’s about all we know, their names. Rubenhold places the spotlight on these women, delving into their history and tells their tales. Tales full of love, heartache, marriage, children and rock bottom despair. These women were daughters, wives, sisters and mothers who had their lives ripped away from in a manner almost unspeakable.

For a historical book of fact The Five is written in a way that reads almost a tale of fiction. Rubenhold’s way of writing prose is exceptional as she seeks to describe the grimy and downtrodden world of Victorian London.

“The broken pavements, dim gaslights, the slicks of sewage, stagnant pools

of disease-breeding water and rubbish-filled roadways foretold of the physical

horrors of what lay within the buildings.”

The descriptions are so well written is becomes a story that draws you in and makes you want to keep reading to discover the gruesome outcome, even though we already know it. You become drawn into these characters and their lives to a point where you almost forget you are reading a book of real-life events.

So if you are a fan of true crime, a Victorian era aficionado or are interesting in discovering more about Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane and the lives they led up until they landed in the clutches of a mad man, then this is the book for you. Mystery, intrigue, historical accuracy, drama and texture, it has it all and will leave you wondering whether these women were in fact prostitutes, or just labeled that by the press for a better story.

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