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

Recently I unearthed my child’s old Amazon Fire tablet and had the bright idea of making it my own. They hadn’t used it in years and well, I was tired of trying to read a book on my phone while on the treadmill. I set it back to factory and downloaded the Overdrive app and went searching for a book.

I hadn’t really read an ebook before. Much like listening to audio books, I considered it cheating on the stacks of paperbacks living on the shelves in my house. But I have come to realize that reading and listening to books with technology allows me to consume books at times when I otherwise would not be able to…at the gym, while sewing or cleaning the house, on long drives. You get the point.

I tend to do better with non-fiction when in gym mode for some reason. It’s like I’m taking care of my body and the business end of my mind at the same time. I love a good multitask situation. So I chose “The Five” by Hallie Rubenhold.

The cover was enticing for sure with its dark, mysterious woman walking down a cobbled street into the mist. I also like a good serial killer, so it was a win. Through all the crime shows and serial killer documentaries I have watched in my life, Jack the Ripper has always made an appearance. It was always related that his victims were prostitutes and I suppose I never cared to look beyond the tidbit that was handed to me, but Hallie Rubenhold did.

“The Five” gives these women more than a name and a stereotype, they are given humanity. Each section of the book is labeled and dedicated to each of his five victims and you are given their life history. You get to know the identity of these women outside of a newspaper headline and in this telling, they are brought to the light. Jack the Ripper is barely mentioned except at the end of each of their stories.

In the journey of learning about these women, we also get a more indepth history lesson of what it was like to live in London during this Victorian Age. It was dreadful. Slums, workhouses, unsanitary conditions, pollution, disease, starvation, poverty, and death. The victims of the Ripper were daughters, wives, mothers. Some were educated and from better financial families, but what most of them had in common was a drinking problem.

It was very frowned upon for women to drink alcohol in this age of proper society and when their behavior turned poor, they were often left out in the cold and lost everything… their home, their husbands, their children, and any means to support themselves. These women often turned to workhouses where they slept in dirty lodgings and were given terrible scraps of food. This was done in an attempt to keep from being on the streets or having to sell their bodies for the privilege of eating.

Some of the victims of Jack the Ripper were prostitutes, whether as a confessed profession, or as a casual worker in the sex trade when it was absolutely necessary. None of them wanted to live this way. At the time of their deaths, the women were at their lowest possible place and succumbed to intoxication. All of them, easy marks.

Jack the Ripper wasn’t crafty or stealth. He just chose victims who couldn’t fight back. His last was killed in her bed while she was sleeping. Yet, the world chooses to make him into something strange and famous. And in all that fanfare, we forget the losses left on families by the lives of their loved ones ended in such a manner.

“The Five” by Hallie Rubenhold, at one point, ceased to be my gym time read, and became my bedtime read because I had to know more about these women. The book is full of information but does not read with a distinct heaviness of most history laden books. It is definitely worth the time. We owe it to these women to know the truth of who they were.

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