This, as many other reviewers have noted, is really not a book about Jack the Ripper. He barely comes into it at all, which certainly seems to be the author’s intention. Instead, she focuses all her time on researching the lives of his five most likely victims. Each woman and her family has an entire section devoted solely to her story.
“It is for them that I write this book. I do so in the hope that we may now hear their stories clearly and give back to them that which was so brutally taken away with their lives: their dignity.”
The author sought to explore the history and circumstances that lead each of these women to their deaths at the hands of Jack the Ripper. One of her main points is to disprove the fact that they were all prostitutes. It has always been “known” that Jack the Ripper killed prostitutes, but as the author points out over and over, the definition of a prostitute at the time was extremely open. It could be any woman who had sex outside of a traditional marriage, not just a woman who walked the streets or sought out Johns.
“Labelling the victims as ‘just prostitutes’ permits writing about Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate and Mary Jane even today to continue to disparage, sexualize and dehumanize them; to continue to reinforce values of madonna/whore.”
I was blown away by the research in this book. Obviously, the author has to make a lot of guesses and estimations as to what each woman was doing on a day-to-day basis. But she fills in a lot of background by explaining what was typical for women at the time. So while a lot of the sentences start with “most likely, X was…” or “at this time, X was probably…”, it never feels like she’s just grasping at straws. Instead, it feels like she had an excellent idea of what these women’s lives probably looked like, which allowed her to fill in any blanks that she came across.
Personally, I really love reading about the day to day minutiae of people who lived in different eras of history and under different circumstances. That’s honestly my favorite part of the Outlander series — I just want to see what it looks like to live a day in the Scottish Highlands, or colonial America during the 1700s. So not only does this book talk about these specific five women, it also gives a great sense of what life looked like at this time.