One of the greatest unsolved mysteries is the identity of the Victorian serial killer known as Jack the Ripper. Ever since the murders of 1888, there have been countless books, films and documentaries, all giving their opinions of what really happened. How much do we actually know about the victims, however? In The Five, Hallie Rubenhold aims to right this wrong by painting a picture of Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, focusing not on their death, but on the lives they led before they met their untimely end.

The crimes of Jack the Ripper have always intrigued me and I have read countless books, each author giving their own take on who the culprit actually was. Over the years, though, I have read very little about the victims and their lives before they became known throughout the world. What we do know has mainly come from witness testimonies from the time and also from the numerous contemporary news reports. It became apparent quite early on in the book that although the author has certainly used these sources of information, she has gone far beyond this, her research being thorough and highly informative.

It is always thought that the five canonical victims were murdered by a man intent on killing prostitutes, but one of the first things that Hallie Rubenhold does is make you question this. Could some of these women have been homeless, sleeping in the yards where they were found? This idea has certainly given me a new take on the crimes and made me look at these women in a completely different way.

It was fascinating reading about the early lives of the women, and wonderful to be able to build up a bigger picture of who they actually were. I found it incredibly sad to read how most of them could have had completely different lives but for the circumstances they suddenly found themselves in. Despite the murders happening over 130 years ago, I could see the parallels in the lives of too many people today, finding themselves homeless due to bereavement, addictions or unemployment. My heart really went out to these women who were trying everything they could to survive.

The Five provides a respectful, moving portrait of the women we have come to know as Jack the Ripper’s victims. If you have any interest in the Victorian era, social history or true crime, then I cannot recommend this book highly enough. A superb read.