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Annie Chapman

The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims by Robert Hume

People all over the world are familiar with the name ‘Jack the Ripper’, the infamous serial killer who, in 1888, slaughtered at least five women in the Whitechapel area of London. Interest in the case has never waned, with detectives and amateur sleuths determined to work out the identity of the man who instilled terror in the women forced to ply their trades on the streets. But what about the identities of the victims? Their names, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly are well-known, but what of their lives? Robert Hume aims to show us that these women were more than just the victims of the Whitechapel killer.

Ever since watching the TV mini-series ‘Jack the Ripper’ starring Michael Caine and Lewis Collins, I have had an interest in the serial killer and, as a result, have developed a penchant for Victorian crime fiction and non-fiction. Whereas a lot of real-life crime books devote much of their content to the victims, the early lives of those taken by the Whitechapel killer have been shrouded in mystery. Earlier this year, I read the brilliant The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold, and so I was pleased to discover that another author has taken on the task of bringing these unfortunate women back into the public eye.

Although there are brief discussions about the crimes and some statements from eye-witnesses, the focus is placed firmly on the women and their lives prior to their untimely deaths. This is done in a very readable way and it was easy to picture the squalid streets and the circumstances the destitute found themselves in. Robert Hume paints a very vivid picture of Whitechapel with its crime-ridden passages where the only refuge for most people was in one of the numerous public houses. It is hard to feel nothing but sympathy for these women who, often through no fault of their own, found themselves selling themselves on the street just to find a bed for the night.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was the many photos that accompanied each woman’s story, whether it be images of the victims themselves or of the area in which the crimes were committed. It is good to see the women in happier times instead of just in the mortuary photos that feature in most other books about the subject.

The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims  is a very readable book for anyone interested in finding out a bit more about the five canonical victims or, indeed, for anyone interested in the social history of the poor in the Victorian era.

With thanks to Pen and Sword History and Net Galley for my copy.

 

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

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.

 

The Whitechapel Secret by Martin Loughlin

51wHQ7JyzDL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_When Jack the Ripper tour guide, Ian Groves, sets out one one of his regular walks around Whitechapel, little does he know that his life is about to take an unexpected turn. Initially sceptical when one of his customers tells him that she has evidence that could solve the century-long mystery, his interest is piqued  enough to start to undertake some research. When an unsuccessful attempt is made on his life and he receives news that the aforementioned customer has been found dead, he begins to realise that he has stumbled upon a conspiracy to keep the secrets of the past well hidden. What ensues is a whirlwind tour of Europe in an attempt to uncover the truth. Just who was Jack the Ripper?

It is hard to review this book without making some sort of comparison to the Robert Langdon novels of Dan Brown. There are many similarities: a male protagonist and his female accomplice, a shady secret society, a whistle-stop tour around the cities of Europe… Whereas Brown’s books can be quite lengthy, however, this is a fast-paced, ‘unputdownable’ alternative take on the age-old Jack the Ripper mystery that I read in a couple of sittings. The author has displayed good subject knowledge and his descriptions of the places Ian Groves visits seem realistic. My only criticism (a minor one!) would be that I would have liked the characters to have spent more time on each country as it often appeared rushed.

The conclusion of The Whitechapel Secret was very clever and was not what I expected. It was a fitting ending for two characters I had grown to like throughout the book and who I had willed to succeed. Although Ian’s involvement was due to his interest in Jack the Ripper, I would be happy reading any further adventures of this character!

With thanks to Net Galley and Endeavour Press for my copy of this book.

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