Jack the Ripper is a name that everyone knows – he’s become a legend, a man who stalked the streets of Whitechapel murdering prostitutes. Except no one knows who he was, only what he did. There’s this huge mystery surrounding him that for over a century has had historians and the public alike scratching their heads and wondering just who he was. The Ripper has been an interest of mine for a while but until now I haven’t really sat down and read anything on him other than a little on the canonical five murders, so when the lovely Pen & Sword offered two Ripper books to review, I jumped at the chance. So today’s post is two very brief reviews of these books, both of which I devoured within just a few days.

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

This book took me about a day and a half to read – I just couldn’t put it down! Just as it says on the cover, this piece of work delves into the lives of Jack the Rippers victims and explains that, contrary to popular belief, they were more than just prostitutes who sold their bodies on the streets of Whitechapel.

Hume tells us the real stores of these women, their history and how they ended up in the poorest area of London. Each story is incredibly sad in it’s own way – each of these women had jobs, homes and families only to find themselves at the bottom of the ladder thanks to perhaps a simple mistake. One example being Annie Chapman. Despite being born out of wedlock (her father married her mother after she was born), Annie grew up in a respectable area and eventually married a respectable man in regular employment. Things started getting difficult when a little one was born. Then her husband was fired from his job, likely due to Annie stealing something from his employer. Heavy drinking then ensued and, when her husband left her, she ended up in the East End. There, with little money of her own, she became desperate and like many other women, resorted to prostitution to make ends meet.

The lives of these women are shockingly similar and reading their stories honestly filled me with sadness. They apparently never knew each other but were linked in so many ways – their lives, their falling from grace, and their horrific deaths at the hand of Jack the Ripper.

I highly recommend this book if you have any interest in women’s history, particularly around the Victorian era, and true crime. It is incredibly well written and Hume presents his subject with candour.

5/5

Who was Jack the Ripper? All the Subjects Revealed – Members of H Division Crime Club

This book, written by members of the H Division Crime Club, is basically a collection of essays around the main Ripper suspects and delves into the psychological profiling of the sort of man who could have committed such atrocities. Whilst this is certainly an interesting way of looking at the suspects, and probably the only way that a book of this type could be written, it does come across as if they expect the reader to have at least some basic knowledge of the time and the event.

Each chapter/essay focuses on a different suspect and argues as to why this individual is the most likely to be the infamous Ripper. Each chapter is well written and presents evidence behind the theories exceptionally well – only to then be totally discredited by someone in the next chapter. Of course, in a book like this there will be totally conflicting arguments and, at the end of the day, no solid conclusion as to who Jack the Ripper really was.

This was an interesting read but I do think you need at least some knowledge of the events (beyond the legends and films etc that have sprung up around the Ripper case) to be able to take it all in. Parts of it are a difficult read – the final chapter is written by a forensic psychologist and goes into some psychological profiling quite deeply.

A fascinating read but not one that everyone will enjoy. And ultimately this book just goes to prove that the identity of Jack the Ripper will forever remain unknown.

3/5

 

borgia

On 12th March 1507, Cesare Borgia was killed just outside of Viana in the Kingdom of Navarre (now part of modern day Spain). I have written on his death before, and you will also be able to read more about it in my upcoming book. But this year, to honour the passing of this intriguing Renaissance bad-boy, I thought I’d do something a little different. Below is a little piece of fiction that I threw together on Cesare’s final moments in the world. Enjoy!

The rain poured from the sky in inky black sheets, soaking his skin as he lay on the forest floor. His eyes were starting to glaze over with the agony of the wounds that had been inflicted on him, blood seeping from the stab wounds that covered his bare chest and mingling with the freezing rain that trickled from his skin. Oh, how he regretted riding off with his vision so tunnelled by rage. Now he was alone, naked and cold as his life blood trickled away.

Every breath felt like torture, the sort of torture that he had inflicted on so many others during his time. A cough crackled through his chest then and he felt the sticky warmth of blood on his lips, tasted the metallic tongue upon his tongue. If he were a God-fearing man, he would be praying for his soul in this instance. But Cesare Borgia was not a God-fearing man – even when he had been forced to wear the crimson robes of a cardinal, he had never feared God nor had he believed. Fortuna was the goddess that he believed in. Fortuna was the one who had guided each and every one of his decisions since he was a young man – her hand had taken him from the College of Cardinals to ruling the Romagna. She had also overseen his downfall. He imagined her standing over him then, but her face was the face of his dear sister, Lucrezia. The rain soaked her beautiful golden hair and her normally beautiful face was stretched in a macabre grin as wicked laughter escaped the confines of her chest.

Oh Lucrezia. What will you do when you find out I am gone? I have done so much wrong by you. Please forgive me.

Because of his actions his sister had suffered. She had lost and she had grieved, and it had all been his fault. At the time he had cared little, but it was only when they had started to grow apart because of it that he had started to feel the smallest twinge of guilt. She had been his light, one of the few women that he had ever truly loved. And it was that closeness that had made their enemies spit spurious rumour.

He started to shiver then, the ice-cold rain hitting his skin and allowing the cold to get into his bones. The bastards who had done this to him had stripped him of his armour and left him completely naked, exposed to the elements, with just a red tile to cover his modesty. He supposed it was because they had no idea who he was. If they had any sort of idea, he would be in irons now rather than about to breath his last.

It was coming. Oh he knew it was coming. The pain was starting to numb now, and the cold was getting heavier. The cold wings of death were starting to shroud him. Cesare Borgia, he who had wanted to be King of all Italy was no longer for this world. He tried to think on his sister as his eyes dimmed, but the thought was cut off as death claimed him…