Another True Crime Review: The Five

August 14, 2019 Uncategorized 20 ★★★★★

Another True Crime Review: The FiveTitle: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
Author: Hallie Rubenhold

Summary: This was a detailed, engaging look at both the lives of these five women and the lives of the poor in Victorian England.

“Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden, and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.”  (source) Because of our focus on their murderer and due to the misconception that Jack the Ripper preyed on prostitutes, their true stories aren’t well known. Together, their stories give a fascinating overview of the lives of the poor and lower middle class in Victorian England.

This was such a well written and researched book! The author did an incredible job telling an engaging story despite the sparse historical record. She stated when the facts were uncertain and included in-text citations, which I loved. She also used general information, such as how workhouses functioned, to vividly imagine these women’s day-to-day lives. She’d clearly done her research about the places these women lived as well, and was able to describe them in great detail. The women’s specific stories gave me a connection to the general descriptions of life at this time. And the general information helped me understand these women’s lived experiences.

Unlike many books that describe multiple women, this book actually spent enough time with each woman that I really got to know them. I didn’t even have a hard time remembering who was who. At the end, the author included some thoughtful commentary on the way the media treats serial killers and their victims. I appreciated this, but I also liked that it was confined to an afterward instead of mixed in with the stories. The stories themselves were just so good, I was glad to focus on them. I’d most recommend this book for its powerful combination of general information and individual stories to bring both the time period and these women to life.

20 Responses to “Another True Crime Review: The Five”

  1. whatsnonfiction

    I’m so excited to hear you liked this one so much too. I was massively impressed with her research and how she dealt with gaps in the historical records or in their individual stories. It just felt like it could’ve gone very wrong and instead she just managed it perfectly. That’s a good point that you could easily separate who was who, that’s a near-constant problem I have in group biographies or any kind of book covering multiple perspectives like this. I just loved this one, glad you did too!

    • DoingDewey

      I loved it so much and your review is actually what motivated me to put it on hold at my library to read as soon as possible, so thank you! I agree that working with a subject so little is known about could easily have gone badly. I’m glad the author handled it so well 🙂

      • whatsnonfiction

        Oh that makes me so happy to hear! I struggled with that review, it was hard to really express how good it was for some reason, and just how much the book encompassed, I guess. Glad it could motivate you to get to this one and that you loved it too! 🙂

  2. Angela

    This sounds so good! I love the mix of the women’s personal stories along with enough general context to give the reader a good sense of the era.

  3. Helen

    It’s nice to hear about a book that centers on the women / victims and not just the murderer. I feel we often give too much publicity to the bad guy.

  4. Shay

    This sounds fantastic! I’ve never seen the appeal of Jack the Ripper, but flipping the perspective to the women has me intrigued.

    • DoingDewey

      I’ve definitely never been obsessed with Jack the Ripper, but I am still negotiating my relationship with true crime. It often has a great narrative arc which ends in a way that feels just and it can also be used for some important social commentary. This book made me think about how some stories focus on the criminals to the point of lionizing them though, while paying little attention to their victims. It really was nice to see that focus flipped 🙂

        • DoingDewey

          Ha! This is delightful. I read this based on a recommendation from Rennie at What’s Nonfiction and it makes me happy that I’ve now passed the recommendation on to someone else 😀

  1. True Crime Review: Last Call - Doing Dewey

    […] enjoyed this book, but couldn’t help comparing it unfavorably to The Five, a story about five women who lived in the Victorian era and who were all killed by Jack the […]

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