The best books that venture into the darker side of Victorian life

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Hallie Rubenhold

Book cover of The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

Why this book?

I bought this book after I attended a talk given by the author at the Bath Festival – Hallie Rubenhold is a historian I had read before but The Five was entirely different than her previous books.

The book delves deep into the lives of Jack the Ripper’s victims rather than exploring who Jack might or might not have been. I was deeply moved by these women’s stories and how easily they were branded as prostitutes by the press. Each endured a different set of circumstances that brought them to Whitechapel…circumstances of which anyone could find themselves the victim of.

This book is the inspiration behind my own trilogy.

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Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders

By Kate Griffin

Book cover of Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders

Why this book?

This book was recommended to me by a friend who knew I liked books set in the Victorian era. However, at the time, I had not read any books set in a music hall and certainly not a mystery. This book takes the reader deep into the underbelly of Victorian London and introduces a whole cast of eerie characters as well as some wonderful characters with hearts of gold.

The descriptions of the places our heroine is forced to visit are so exquisitely drawn that I could literally taste, smell, hear and see everything. The charm of Kitty and her friends gives a welcome reprieve from the darker aspects of the novel, yet it is those aspects that thrill the most!

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Oliver Twist

By Charles Dickens

Book cover of Oliver Twist

Why this book?

It would be impossible for me to recommend books that venture to the dark side of Victorian life and not name a Dickens novel. This is a writer who lived, worked, and immersed himself in the time about which he writes, a contemporary who we can still (thank goodness!) read today. To read Oliver Twist is like receiving a commentary on what Dickens experienced, saw, and heard about almost 200 years on.

The writing, of course, is exemplary but it is more than that which affects me whenever I read this book – it is the sadness of the children, but also the palpable sense of survival that comes from them regardless of their backgrounds or the circumstances which led to where they are now.

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The Yard

By Alex Grecian

Book cover of The Yard

Why this book?

I stumbled across this book while browsing through a charity shop – a murder/mystery set in Whitechapel when Jack the Ripper is still roaming free. I am by no means a follower of Ripper stories, legend or myth, despite recommending this book, but there is something about Victorian London in the 1880s that fascinates me.

The Yard is the first in a series that I have devoured over the last few years. I love Alex Grecian’s easy writing style and the main character, Detective Inspector Walter Day is one I wish I had created myself. He has a brilliant mind, a quick and quiet humour, and a soul that is truly good. Of course, he does have his faults, but they are all forgivable…at least for me!

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Tipping the Velvet

By Sarah Waters

Book cover of Tipping the Velvet

Why this book?

This fantastic book could be considered a lesbian love story, a coming of age book, or just what it is for me – a suspenseful, engrossing, page-turning read that I have read three times. The moment I first read this book, I fell in love with Sarah Waters' writing and have read everything she’s written except her last novel.

I found the character of Nan particularly affecting as her voice is so well constructed that you can feel every ounce of excitement, confusion, and pain through her dialogue. When you feel that intimate with a character, it is impossible to not become entirely immersed in their story. If you want to read a book, written in first person that will take you on a journey through London that will surprise and endear, inspire and enthrall, then this is a book for you.

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