The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

Hallie Rubenhold challenges the pitfalls of the true crime genre in her much-needed and devastatingly brilliant new book

Book Review by Rebecca Wojturska | 28 Feb 2019
  • The Five
Book title: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
Author: Hallie Rubenhold

When a woman is murdered by a notorious serial killer, she dies two deaths: once in the killing itself and once again through erasure, the focus almost always on the murderer. Works of true crime are often guilty of the too-familiar pitfalls of the genre: ‘evil’ is evoked to avoid deep engagement with the social issues and misogyny that shape the circumstances of such crimes, and the women, although named, are framed as poor victims of the ‘genius’ killer. The focus is on the killer’s Othering from society without questioning what aspects of society need to change.

Hallie Rubenhold not only avoids these pitfalls but actively challenges them. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper dedicates a chapter each to the biographies of Mary Ann 'Polly' Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine 'Kate' Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly, all murdered in 1888. Five exceptionally different women met the same fate, and Rubenhold explores the poverty, alcoholism, sexism, and health issues that defined their lives and contributed towards their deaths.

Rubenhold presents this historical true crime with extensive research and astonishing narrative energy. She breathes life into ‘the five’ and her language, using colloquial terms from the nineteenth century, makes you feel the injustices experienced by not only sex workers but all women.

The Five is a much-needed, devastatingly brilliant book. Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate and Mary-Jane died two deaths, but Rubenhold lays before us an act of resurrection, bringing back into the world what it has been possible to save, recovering the dignity of those women erased. [Rebecca Wojturska]

Doubleday, 28 Feb, £16.99