Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Mummy's Curse...Not So Fast!

High Society Lady #3
Sara Rosett
April 15, 2019

The Egyptian Antiquities Murder took me once again into a period in Britain that has always fascinated me.  The period between WWI and WWII was an era of tremendous social change, not least for our High Society Lady Detective, Olive Belgrave. Olive was gently born and never expected to be left virtually penniless due to her feckless father's bad investments. Rather than retreating into the country with her father and his unwelcoming new wife, Olive is determined to make it on her own. In books 1 and 2 of the series, Olive has had some success investigating problems in "society" that could never be entrusted to the police or the lesser-born. She was delighted to receive a letter from the niece of Lord Mulvern who recently died. The police declared it a suicide, and the press speculated that it was the result of a "mummy's curse." His niece, Lady Agnes, declares that he had no reason to commit suicide and the mummy's curse merely is nonsense.

The investigation turns out to be more difficult than  Olive expected. Lady Agnes and other family members and staff prove to be less forthcoming than Olive expected, and she is deprived of her partner,  the mysterious Jasper's assistance throughout most of this book. I always enjoy Rosett's deft descriptions of the fashions and manners of the period which inform but never intrude on the story. I am looking forward to the next book in the series (with more Jasper, I hope). Thanks to the author for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Ripper's Victims Step Out of The Shadows

The Lives of Jack the Ripper's Victims
Hallie Rubenhold
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
April 9, 2019

I have read probably more books, more theories, and watched more TV programs, about Jack the Ripper's identity than anyone should. Despite having a reasonably good knowledge of the lives of women and the poor in18th and 19th century England, I never gave much thought to his victims. The Five is about 130 years overdue in bringing  Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Kate, and Mary Jane to life. It is all too easy to gloss over them and accept the prejudices of society and the press. The first disturbing fact, at least to me, is that four out of the five women were in all probability, not prostitutes. Only Mary Jane Kelly had a provable history of prostitution. It does not matter whether they were or not. They had merely fallen on hard times, were without dependable male support and lived in a society which set up impossible expectations for women and the poor. The laws and attitudes of the time placed more obstacles in their path than help and actively conspired to make women's lives difficult, if not impossible. The fact that women were reduced to sleeping on the streets did not automatically make them prostitutes or criminals. Alcohol use was also a contributing factor to the downward trajectory of the women's circumstances. Gin was the universal escape for both the men and women of the working classes, and violence invariably followed.

The Five is an exhaustively researched narrative that kept me ricocheting between tears and rage. It is incredible that so much material is available on three of Jack's victims. The other two are less well-documented, especially Mary Jane, who never seemed to tell anyone the truth of her life. Rubenhold does make assumptions about them, but to me, the premises are well based on fact. I recommend The Five without reservation to anyone interested in crime or social/women's history. Thanks to Houghton and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars