415 pages ~ ★★★★☆ ~ Kindle
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper is a historical non-fiction which is a little different to other Jack the Ripper books I’ve read as the focus for this is the background and lives of the five women rather than their murders.
Split into five main sections you’re given the background of each woman in turn, going back one or two generations; the purpose of this is to counter the common belief that these were the murders of prostitutes when the reality is there is little to support that any of the women would have considered themselves a prostitute at the time of their deaths. Only the fifth, and probably most famous victim, Mary Kelly was recorded as being a prostitute on her death certificate yet we remember these murder victim as five Whitechapel prostitutes. One of the victims grew up in Sweden, one travelled the country for the majority of her life, most of them could read and write, most were in their forties when they died and had lived full, complicated and interesting lives – all of these things surprised me.
What really struck me was how quickly their situations altered, often as a result of alcohol; most of the women had found themselves falling in a vicious cycle of living day to day on scraping together the money need to stay in a ‘doss house’ overnight and the lengths each went to in order to avoid the workhouses says enough about the alternative conditions available. I learnt a lot about the conditions, expectations and options given to people in the late 1800s; particularly women seemed to be stuck unless they could attach themselves to a man in order to pull back some credibility.
Hallie writes really clearly and made reading about a difficult topic quite compelling; it’s not very often that a non-fiction book gives me that ‘do not want to put down’ feeling but I definitely got it with this. It may be worth mentioning that this book contains very little detail or information about the murders, the investigation or any of the suspects so if that’s what you’re after then there are plenty of books which will cover that for you. At first, I found this a little frustrating but there’s enough writing, documentaries, films and walking tours out there if you want the gory details; however, if you want to find out more about the five women who are only remembered by most for the way they died.