Sunday, 30 August 2020

I'll Be Gone In The Dark

I'll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

Paperback, 344 pages

Published 28th February 2019 by Faber & Faber

arc-or-review, books-i-own, crime-thriller-mystery, desperate-to-read, historical, lasting-impression, memoirs-biographies-etc, movies-or-tv, non-fiction, rape, read, read-in-2020, title-appeal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

The masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer - the serial rapist turned murderer who terrorised California for over a decade - from the late Michelle McNamara. I'll Be Gone in the Dark offers a unique snapshot of suburban West Coast America in the 1980s, and a chilling account of the wreckage left behind by a criminal mastermind. It is also a portrait of one woman's obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth, three decades later, in spite of the personal cost. Updated with material which takes in the extraordinary events that followed its initial publication, Michelle McNamara's first and last book is a contemporary classic - humane, haunting and heroic.

I'll Be Gone in the Dark is a book unlike any other that I've read. The book is beautifully written whilst describing a real-life horror story. This is the story of the late Michelle McNamara's obsessive search for an elusive monster. This is the story of the known attacks of The Golden State Killer, also known as The East Area Rapist, The Original Night Stalker, The Visalia Ransacker, The Diamond Knot Killer, and only more recently, Joseph James DeAngelo. 

It is difficult to review this book and it's difficult to read too, which is part of its success. Quotes on the book cover state that this is a book that you can't put down, it's something to read in one-sitting, but for me it was completely the opposite. The writing is indeed gripping and compulsive, but also frighteningly vivid. It can be a difficult book to digest due to the content and it's important to take breaks in order to really appreciate  exactly what you've just read, to absorb the impact that the events of the book had on the victims and the wider community of California. Whilst I was gripped by the crimes and mystery - as I was and I am - this is a book that I had to consciously keep putting down in order to reflect upon whilst still eager to get back to. 

McNamara's prose is surprisingly beautiful despite often describing such violent content. This is a book that is so well written, the crimes so clearly portrayed that it is guaranteed to have a lasting effect on any reader. The Golden State Killer stalked, burglarised, bound, raped, psychologically tortured and tormented his victims before going on to murder some. McNamara uses all of her collected evidence and investigative skills to bring these crimes to life on paper, not being afraid to share small, intimate details whilst still never overstating and always showing respect to the victims. This entire book is a fantastic piece of investigative journalism, but for me, the stand-out part was Michelle's final piece of writing that was included, entitled "Letter to an Old Man" - her imagination of the Golden State Killer's eventual arrest, where it's almost as though she foreshadowed his eventual capture.

Admittedly, the book does seem a little disjointed at places, both due to the fact that it's not written chronologically and that it was partially written/edited posthumously, but this doesn't distract from McNamara's apparent talent for writing, her brilliant investigative and journalistic skills as well as her sheer dedication and determination. I also enjoyed seeing how she gained the trust of detectives and police departments. Her untimely sudden death only adds more sadness to the whole story. The fact that she didn't finally get to discover the GSK's true identity is heartbreaking and I truly wish that she had been able to watch Joseph DeAngelo's arrest and sentencing. Thankfully, her main wish did however come true and we now know exactly who the Golden State Killer is - that is partially with thanks to Michelle's hard work, relentless research and her publicity of the case.

Before reading this book, I did have some general knowledge about The Golden State Killer, learned from the documentary series Unmasking a Killer and some internet searches. Here in the UK, he is not well known and the known crimes were committed before I was born - I first heard about him after his arrest. I read I'll Be Gone In The Dark in the week during DeAngelo's sentencing, where he was sentenced to life imprisonment. I really feel like I have watched, and now have read, an important piece of criminal history. 

This is a book and a case that will stay with me for a long time and that I will continue to follow. I highly recommend I'll Be Gone In The Dark to anybody who is interested in true crime, criminology, forensic science or investigative journalism. It has really made me see not only the Golden State Killer, but all undiscovered serious criminals, in a new perspective. 

The TV adaptation of I'll Be Gone in the Dark, produced by HBO, is available to watch in the UK from today (30th August) on the Sky Crime Channel, but be sure to read the book first! 

Thursday, 27 August 2020

From The Review Pile (99)

From the Review Pile is a meme hosted by Stepping Out of the Page every Thursday.
The aim of this meme is to showcase books that you've received for review (or if you don't receive review books, any book that you own and really want to read/review) but haven't yet got around to reading, in order to give the book some extra publicity.

I know that a lot of you have a huge pile of books that you want to read/review, but it understandably takes a while to get around to reading them all - here you can give a book (or two!) some of the publicity that it deserves, even if you haven't read it yet!


This week, I'm going to showcase Columbine!
I have been listening to a lot of podcasts lately and a lot have mentioned the following book, Columbine, by Dave Cullen. I would really like to read this book to get some more information on the horrific event of the 90's that changed the way we view American schools and their safety. I believe this book is supposedly quite controversial in its content, but I would really like to read it for myself. 

Columbine by Dave Cullen
Hardback, 417 pages

Published March 2009 by Twelve

"The tragedies keep coming. As we reel from the latest horror . . . " So begins a new epilogue, illustrating how Columbine became the template for nearly two decades of "spectacle murders." It is a false script, seized upon by a generation of new killers. In the wake of Newtown, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, the imperative to understand the crime that sparked this plague grows more urgent every year.
What really happened April 20, 1999? The horror left an indelible stamp on the Americanpsyche, but most of what we "know" is wrong. It wasn't about jocks, Goths, or the Trench Coat Mafia. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on scene, and spent ten years on this book-widely recognized as the definitive account. With a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen, he draws on mountains of evidence, insight from the world's leading forensic psychologists, and the killers' own words and drawings-several reproduced in a new appendix. Cullen paints raw portraits of two polar opposite killers. They contrast starkly with the flashes of resilience and redemption among the survivors.

Monday, 24 August 2020

Talking with Serial Killers: World's Most Evil

Talking with Serial Killers: World's Most Evil by Christopher Berry-Dee

Paperback, 289 pages

Published 2019 by John Blake Publishing

crime-thriller-mystery, death, non-fiction, read, read-in-2020, series-or-companions, title-appeal

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

Christopher Berry-Dee delves deeper still into the gloomy underworld of killers and their crimes. He examines, with shocking detail and clarity, the lives and lies of people who have killed, and shines a light on the motives behind their horrific crimes.
Through interviews with the killers, the police and key members of the prosecution, alongside careful analysis of the cases themselves, the reader is given unprecedented insight into the most diabolical mings that humanity has to offer.
Extending its sweep from lonesome outsiders to upstanding members of the community, Talking with Serial Killers: World's Most Evil shows that the world's most monstrous killers may be far closer than you think...

If, like me, you're a fan of anything True Crime, it's likely you'll have seen at least one of Berry-Dee's Talking With books on a shelf in a bookstore near you. The series includes titles such as Talking with Psychopaths and Talking with Female Serial Killers, this one claiming that it's about the World's Most Evil. With my interest piqued by the dramatic title, I was eager to dive into this book.

There's no doubt that this book does address some of 'The World's Most Evil', though at the same time only covers five people. None of the killers that I would've personally addressed are mentioned in the book, but I did get to learn about three new subjects that I, perhaps shockingly, can't recall reading about before. The featured killers in the book were the infamous John Wayne Michael Gacy, Kenneth Alessio Bianchi, William George Heirens, John David Guise Cannan and Patricia Wright. 

The book addresses each of these people in short sections though gives a very good summary of their both their lives, from childhood to death or incarceration, and their crimes. I was very interested to read about all of these people, particularly those who I'd not heard of before, and I feel like I gained a good wealth of knowledge about them. I've actually listened to some podcasts and watched some documentaries on the killers since reading and have found that  Berry-Dee certainly covered almost everything there is to know in this book. Like anything from the true crime genre, this can be a difficult read in several places but was kept factual and professional. There are, expectedly, some very graphic scenes portrayed in the book, but they do serve their purpose for historical education and make you really imagine what was happening. It's easy to see why Berry-Dee considers these people some of the World's Most Evil.

Whilst the book was well compiled and held my interest until the end, I was a little disappointed that it didn't really encapsulate the 'Talking With' part of the title. The book is formed from lots of information that the author has collected and studied over the years, but there was hardly any direct words from the offenders themselves. I would have certainly found the book more interesting and unique if there had have been. I only really felt that the author really portrayed personal communication with Patricia Wright, whose story I found the least interesting as it was so shrouded in doubts from the author, rather than factual like the previous cases. Whilst the portrayal in the book didn't interest me, I did research her story online afterwards and found it more interesting - I honestly can't say that I would've put her amongst the 'World's Most Evil' in comparison to the previous subjects.

Overall, if you don't know much about Gacy, Bianchi, Heirens, Cannan or Wright, this book is certainly worth a read - just to get a good overview of their cases and stories. If you are really wanting an in-depth look as the psychology behind the killers, or to read material from the killers themselves, you may be disappointed. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of true crime as a 'base' book - something to your own research upon at a later time. I am pleased that I read his book, but rather disappointed that there was no real 'Talking with Serial Killers'.  Nonetheless, I'd still be interested in reading more work by this criminologist.

Thursday, 20 August 2020

From The Review Pile (98)

From the Review Pile is a meme hosted by Stepping Out of the Page every Thursday.
The aim of this meme is to showcase books that you've received for review (or if you don't receive review books, any book that you own and really want to read/review) but haven't yet got around to reading, in order to give the book some extra publicity.

I know that a lot of you have a huge pile of books that you want to read/review, but it understandably takes a while to get around to reading them all - here you can give a book (or two!) some of the publicity that it deserves, even if you haven't read it yet!


This week, I'm going to showcase Go Ask Alice!
Go Ask Alice is a relatively 'old' book now, having been published for nearly 15 years, but it's one that still sounds very relevant. I have read that this is quite a controversial book but also one that is very popular, so it's something I would really like to read for myself. I love books which tackle difficult issues and this so this really appeals to me.

Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks
Paperback, 213 pages
Published 1st January 2006 by Simon Pulse

It started when she was served a soft drink laced with LSD in a dangerous party game. Within months, she was hooked, trapped in a downward spiral that took her from her comfortable home and loving family to the mean streets of an unforgiving city. It was a journey that would rob her of her innocence, her youth -- and ultimately her life.

Read her diary.

Enter her world.

You will never forget her.

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Attwood
Paperback, 324 pages

Published 5th July 2007 by Vintage (Originaly published August 1985)

adult-fiction, books-i-own, dystopian, favourites, read, read-in-2020, series-or-companions

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.

Brilliantly conceived and executed, this powerful evocation of twenty-first-century America gives full rein to Margaret Atwood's devastating irony, wit and astute perception.

The Handmaid's Tale is a difficult book to review. In fact, it's a difficult book to even shelve. Is it science fiction or is it realistic fiction? I only know that for sure that it's a modern classic that is even more scarily relevant now in 2020 than it was when it was first written in 1985. 

The Handmaid's Tale is something that you really have to experience for yourself - it's a book unlike any other that I've read before as you're aware that it's set in the dystopian Republic of Gilead but you're also aware that what it happening is shockingly relevant - maybe not directly, but the undertones, the insinuations and ideas are most definitely there. It's the philosophy that is relevant, rather than the actions portrayed. This is where its main success lies. For anyone who's intrigued by religion, women's rights and feminism, this is a necessary read. 

This is a relatively short book at only 324 pages, but it took me quite a while to get through -  although it's written well, the subject matter can feel draining. There isn't a huge amount of character development in the book apart from that of the narrator, Offred, but as I say, this doesn't really cause concern. Although I have no deep insight into the personalities of the characters, I can imagine their feelings and concerns. 

Gilead is somewhere I have a good picture of in my head - both the workings of the Republic and  the atmosphere there. I can most certainly imagine the dreary dystopian, yet familiar setting. The fact that the setting is so familiar - a once regular town in the United States, something that we can all relate to from personal experience or films - is one of the things that make it so disturbing. 

Overall, this is a powerful book which I will probably revisit in the future. The book has always been on my radar, but since watching and adoring the TV adaptation of the book, I knew I had to read it straight away. I would highly recommend both. I'm looking forward to following it up at some point by reading The Testaments which I hope will expand on some of the characters that we were introduced to and just what happens to the women and children of Gilead.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

From The Review Pile (97)

From the Review Pile is a meme hosted by Stepping Out of the Page every Thursday.
The aim of this meme is to showcase books that you've received for review (or if you don't receive review books, any book that you own and really want to read/review) but haven't yet got around to reading, in order to give the book some extra publicity.

I know that a lot of you have a huge pile of books that you want to read/review, but it understandably takes a while to get around to reading them all - here you can give a book (or two!) some of the publicity that it deserves, even if you haven't read it yet!


This week, I'm going to showcase Breaking The Silence!
I would really love to read some books by Diane Chamberlain. As readers of this blog will know, one of my favourite authors is Jodi Picoult and Diane Chamberlain is often hailed as the nearest comparison. I've a couple of Chamberlain's books on my shelves and I would like to read more of them soon. The stories sound very captivating. Although they all sound great, Breaking the Silence sounds like the most intriguing offering to me.

Breaking The Silence by Diane Chamberlain
Paperback, 407 pages
Published 17th December 2010 by Mira 

“My husband shot himself in our bedroom. When I got home, Emma was standing at the bottom of the stairs, screaming.”

Since that awful day, Laura Brandon’s little girl hasn’t uttered a word. When a psychiatrist suggests that Emma won’t talk because she’s terrified of men, Laura is guilt-ridden. To help Emma, she needs to know what unspeakable secret lies behind her husband’s suicide.

Laura thought her family was perfect, but her quest leads her to a shocking truth. For her child’s sake, should her father’s sins be kept silent?

For fans of JODI PICOULT, this is a must read.

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

The Donor

The Donor by Helen Fitzgerald
Paperback, 320 pages

Published July 2011 by Faber Faber

adult-fiction, crime-thriller-mystery, disliked, drink-and-drugs, let-down, medical-conditions, new-adult, read, read-in-2020, realistic-fiction

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

The Donor, Helen FitzGerald's fifth novel, is a nail-biting psychological thriller about a single dad's horrorfying dilemma. Will, who has given up everything to raise his twin daughters, has a terrible choice to make when both girls suffer kidney failure age 16.

Should he save one child? If so, which one?

Should he buy a kidney - be an organ tourist?

Should he sacrifice himself?

Or is there a fourth solution - one so terrible it has never even crossed his mind?

Perfect for fans of Julia Crouch, Sophie Hannah and Laura Lippman, The Donor is a gripping thriller about a single dad faced with organ donation as his twin daughters battle to survive. 

You should never judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, when it comes to actual books, I'm afraid to say that I'm guilty of doing so and this The Donor attracted me on both counts. The title was enough to grab me, but after reading the blurb, I knew I just had to read it straight away. It's been said that this book is perfect for fans of Jodi Picoult, Diane Chamberlain and Sophie Hannah, all authors that I've enjoyed in the past. The premise sounded intriguing, it had so much potential, but sadly, this book didn't live up to my expectations at all.

It usually takes me a while to decide whether I like a book or not - I feel I should give them all a fair chance. It's rare that I take such a quick dislike to a book as much I did with this one. Initially, I wasn't a fan of the mix between first and third person narration but I did adjust to it quite quickly, so it didn't pose too much of an issue after I'd read through a quarter of the book. The main reason I didn't like the majority of this book was the pure 'trashiness' of it - I'm certainly not a prude or afraid of expletives but I felt that half of the things in this book were just thrown in for the sake of it.  The whole book was littered with random sex scenes and encounters which seemed to hold no purpose whatsoever, not even adding to character relationships or development. There wasn't a chapter that didn't hold a multitude of swearing either, none of which had any real impact as it was just too frequent. Even excusing those first two issues, I had to draw the line at the derogatory language that was used for absolutely no real reason - at the point where one character offhandedly called autistic people 'windowlickers' for absolutely no reason, I had to stop myself from throwing the book across the room. It honestly felt like there was a teenager writing this book, just throwing in anything that they could to be rebellious - this may have benefitted Georgie's narration but it wasn't appropriate for third person.

With a book like this, it's especially important to connect to the characters and feel for them. We're introduced to Will, the unsuccessful parent of Kay and Georgie with a penchant for weed, alcohol and S&M with a married woman who lives nearby. He's probably the most likeable character of them all, showing equal parts of desperation and love for the twins. The  twins, both in need of a donor, are polar opposites - Kay is the 'pretty', kind twin and Georgie is the twin that appears to shows only contempt and cruelness. Georgie's character seems to have more development than Kay as she is who narrates alternating chapters. Initially, I strongly disliked her but her character does develop slightly throughout the book. The other characters include Preston, a strange but admittedly intriguing character who is tasked with searching for the mother of the twins, Cynthia, a relentless drug addict with absolutely no redeeming qualities, and her equally dislikable partner, Heath.  

Despite my issues with this book, it was a page-turner - it was very easy to read and it didn't have any long or drawn out sections - it didn't become boring, which is an extremely positive point. I got through The Donor very quickly in only a couple of sittings. The book did keep me entertained during the last half in particular. Whilst some of the occurrences in the book seemed slapstick and ridiculous, as simple entertainment, the action and the twists in the book weren't disappointing and kept me reading on, despite my issues with the writing. I believe that the bare bones of a good story are in this book, but unfortunately it's just not quite developed as it should be. Disappointing, but this was likely mostly due to my preconceptions. 

Thursday, 6 August 2020

From The Review Pile (96)

From the Review Pile is a meme hosted by Stepping Out of the Page every Thursday.
The aim of this meme is to showcase books that you've received for review (or if you don't receive review books, any book that you own and really want to read/review) but haven't yet got around to reading, in order to give the book some extra publicity.

I know that a lot of you have a huge pile of books that you want to read/review, but it understandably takes a while to get around to reading them all - here you can give a book (or two!) some of the publicity that it deserves, even if you haven't read it yet!


This week, I'm going to showcase The Green Mile!
Believe it or not, I am yet to read a Stephen King novel. As someone who loves anything to do with crime and prison-set novels, I think that The Green Mile will be the most appropriate first choice for me. I did watch the film adaptation years ago and really enjoyed it so I'm pretty sure that this will be with hit with me. I have a copy of this at the forefront of my bookshelf and I'm determined to finally  read it soon!

The Green Mile by Stephen King
Hardback, 453 pages
Published 10th September 1999 by Orion

At Cold Mountain Penitentiary, along the lonely stretch of cells known as the Green Mile, condemned killers such as 'Billy the Kid' Wharton and the possessed Eduard Delacroix await death strapped in 'Old Sparky'. But good or evil, innocent or guilty, prisoner or guard, none has ever seen the brutal likes of the new prisoner, John Coffey, sentenced to death for raping and murdering two young girls. Is Coffey a devil in human form? Or is he a far, far different kind of being?

There are more wonders in heaven and hell than anyone at Cold Mountain can imagine and one of those wonders might just have stepped in amongst them

Keep Her Quiet

Keep Her Quiet by Emma Curtis
Paperback, 432 pages

Expected Publication 17th September 2020 by Black Swan - eBook released today!

 adult-fiction, arc-or-review, better-than-expected, books-i-own, crime-thriller-mystery, favourites, read, read-in-2020, realistic-fiction, really-good

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

Jenny has just given birth to the baby she’s always wanted. She’s never been this happy.

Her husband, Leo, knows this baby girl can’t be his. He’s never felt so betrayed.

The same night, a vulnerable young woman, Hannah, wakes to find her newborn lifeless beside her. She’s crazed with grief.

When chance throws Hannah into Leo’s path, they make a plan that will have shattering consequences for all of them.

Years later, a sixteen-year-old girl reads an article in a newspaper, and embarks on a journey to uncover the truth about herself. But what she learns will put everything she has ever known – and her own life – in grave danger. Because some people will go to desperate lengths to protect the secrets their lives are built on . . .

Books like this one are exactly why I read. This is a book that from the first few pages, I didn't want to put down. It's very rare for me to instantly become hooked into a book, but this one managed that with ease. Author Fanny Blake made a quote about this book - "This is grip-lit at it's best" - and I could not agree more.

Initially, I was intrigued by the premise of this book after watching the TV adaptation of another book, The Secrets She Keeps. The story had some similar ideas and after enjoying the TV show, I thought I might like reading about what sounded like a similar story. For those who were fans of that drama, you will certainly be gripped and enjoy this story - likely even more so. Whilst there were some similarities between the stories, this one was certainly original and had an even more interesting, multifaceted storyline which was more consuming. I would absolutely love to see this one adapted to TV or film one day.

It's quite hard to review this book without giving away any spoilers which I don't want to do - the book runs on tension and suspense. The entire book has substance, full of revelations and some twists and turns which genuinely made my jaw drop. There is so much that goes on in this book but it's never confusing, just exciting. The story is a real page-turner and the story is full of so many mixed emotions. The characters felt realistic and complex, particularly Leo, who was the real stand-out character in this book, in my opinion. Leo is a character unlike any other I've read about, he is so realistic and has such a complex, interesting psychology. Curtis has managed to create several realistic characters, all feeling very human, vulnerable and flawed in their own individual ways. 

After such an impressive, eventful story, I was curious as to how all of the events would be concluded. There was an epilogue to this book, which I was a little hesitant about but I am glad to say that it worked well and I was pleased with the ending of the book, most things were wrapped up - thankfully, it wasn't done idealistically, it felt realistic yet was still conclusive. I am so impressed that nothing fell short in this book - the storyline, the characters, the conclusion, everything seemed fantastically done.

Overall, as you can probably tell by my gushing review, this is a book that I will recommend to everyone. We all need something to entertain and distract us from the real world right now and this certainly does that. I can't wait to read more by Emma Curtis. An instant five stars - go and pre-order/buy this now!

Keep Her Quiet is released as an e-Book today!

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

My Life With Murderers

My Life With Murderers: Behind Bars With the World's Most Violent Men by David Wilson
Hardback, 272 pages

Published 21st March 2019 by Sphere

crime-thriller-mystery, memoirs-biographies-etc, mental-health, non-fiction, read, read-in-2020
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

Professor David Wilson has spent his professional life working with violent men - especially men who have committed murder. Aged twenty-nine he became, at that time, the UK's youngest ever prison Governor in charge of a jail and his career since then has seen him sat across a table with all sorts of killers: sometimes in a tense interview; sometimes sharing a cup of tea (or something a little stronger); sometimes looking them in the eye to tell them that they are a psychopath.

Some of these men became David's friends; others would still love to kill him.

My Life with Murderers tells the story of David's journey from idealistic prison governor to expert criminologist and professor. With experience unlike any other, David's story is a fascinating and compelling study of human nature.

Professor David Wilson is a relatively well known criminologist here in the UK and if you're interested in true crime, its quite likely that you've seen a documentary or two that he has featured in. I have enjoyed several of his documentaries and so that, alongside my true crime-fascination, inspired me to pick up this book. I'm glad I did!

Although there's nothing particularly groundbreaking or any new revelations in this book, it's a very interesting and worthwhile read. The book covers numerous issues relating to criminology and holds a lot of focus on the prison system and rehabilitation, particularly focusing on how Wilson thinks that the system could improve in order to help prisoners. His insights and opinions seemed fair and well thought through and I respect that he has had a lot of experience in that sector. 

What I found more interesting though was hearing about his experiences with criminals. I was a little disappointed that he didn't, or couldn't, go into more depth with each case, but I found that the little he did reveal quite interesting, if not sometimes surprisingly boastful in tone.
Disappointingly, I found that the book was more about the crimes that these people committed rather than his connection or communication with them - information that I'd imagine would be easy to find online or in other  books or documentaries. I found the book to be more about his research than his actual personal experiences with these people. 
Nonetheless, it was still interesting to read through several different criminal cases and I did keep wanting to read on to find out more. There were also some different aspects of murders and crime that were covered which I haven't read about before, such as analysing 'contract killing' which I found particularly interesting and surprising. 

Overall, this will be an informative and easily accessible read for those who have a fresh interest in true crime. The book covers quite a lot of topics without going into too much depth, allowing the way for the reader to choose their most interesting topics to research in depth later. It was a page turner at points and kept me interested with the diversity of subjects discussed. 

Monday, 3 August 2020

Cries Unheard: The Story of Mary Bell

Cries Unheard: The Story of Mary Bell by Gitta Sereny
Hardback, 416 pages
Published 13th April 1999 by Macmillan

Shelvesabuse, books-i-own, crime-thriller-mystery, memoirs-biographies-etc, mental-health, non-fiction, read, read-in-2020

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:In 1968, at the age of eleven, Mary Bell was tried, and convicted, of manslaughter after the death of two small boys in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Her friend, and neighbour, thirteen-year-old, Norma Bell, no relation, was acquitted. Gitta Sereny attended the trial, and spent the next two years researching, and writing, what has become a classic study, The Case of Mary Bell. Over the years, however, she came to realize that if we are ever to understand the pressures which bring a child to commit serious crimes, only they, when adult, can tell us.

Twenty-seven years after her conviction, and her sentence of detention for life, after her mother's death, Mary Bell agreed to talk about her harrowing childhood, her two terrible acts nine weeks apart, her public trial, and her twelve years of detention - seven of them, beginning when she was sixteen, in a maximum security women's prison.

Nothing she said in the five months of intensive talks with Gitta Sereny was intended, or can be taken, as an excuse for her crimes: she herself rejects all mitigation. But the story of her life forces the reader to ponder society's responsibility for children at breaking point. It challenges our willingness to commit ourselves to the prevention of violent acts such as Mary committed. It is a clarion call to review our system of justice, and punishment, as it applies to the most needy amongst us - our children at risk.

Cries Unheard is a brilliant tour de force, meticulously piecing together the terribly damaged life of Mary Bell, who only as an adult, and loving parent herself, grew to realize the moral enormity of her crimes. But it is not an isolated tragedy. There are thousands of children in prison across Europe, and in America. And in Britain, where punitive justice for children is most formalized, recent cases such as the murder of James Bulger show the urgency for our attention, our compassion, and our action.

Cries Unheard tells the story of Mary Bell, a girl who was only eleven years old when she was convicted of murdering two boys - aged 3 and 4. Most of my knowledge about Mary Bell comes from my grandmother who lived in the same area as Bell at the time of her crimes and knew both Bell and the victims families. The other knowledge comes from one TV documentary and the small amount of information about the case which is on the internet. Due to the locality of the case, I'm always wanting to learn more about it and this seems to be the most comprehensive book available about Bell. I have also been told that this book caused quite the stir in my hometown of Newcastle Upon Tyne. 

This is the second book that Gitta Sereny has written about Mary Bell, the first being The Case of Mary Bell: A Portrait of a Child who Murdered, which is referenced throughout this one. 
Quite honestly, the first book seems referenced a little too much - despite thankfully including all necessary information to the case and even including some excerpts. I did briefly consider reading the first book but in all honesty, after reading this one, I don't feel the need to - it doesn't seem like there's much more to learn. The book contains a lot of information about Mary Bell both before, during and, mostly, after her conviction which was good - I felt like we got a good insight into all aspects of her life. The book did have a good amount of information and I am glad I read it as I did find it interesting and I learnt a lot about Mary's life, the murders, the court trial and what happened afterwards. I am fairly confident I now have a good firm knowledge of the case, but of course, I can't  be sure that everything that I read was true. I am pleased that there were conversations with more reputable sources mentioned in the book - such as Bell's psychologist and mentors - which I am much more inclined to believe. 

This is somewhat of a biography of Bell, written by Sereny but interspersed with direct quotes from conversations with Bell after her release. The purely factual parts of the book and the information about Newcastle in the late 60's seems accurate and interesting. I think Sereny did a great job of setting the scene of the murders in the first half of the book and was especially good at describing what working class life in Scotswood was like.  The first section of the book was a useful, informative account of the crime.

In the second half of the book, it was certainly interesting to get insight about Mary and her life from the woman herself, to see how she communicates and thinks, but the problem about that is that she seems to be a prolific liar - something that is made clear in the book and can actually become quite frustrating. We read pages and pages of Bell's recollections, only for them to often then be quickly disproven by people that have been responsible for her care. It was very hard to understand what to believe about Mary and to be honest, the author didn't help. Despite her brief protestations, I also often felt like she seemed overly sympathetic to Bell and had been somewhat 'drawn in' by her. Sereny offers a lot of opinions on Bell's psychological state, none of which seem significant due to the sense of bias and the fact that Sereny is purely a journalist - not a psychiatrist, psychologist or criminologist. 

My main issue with this book was that, at points, it felt very disjointed. Although there is some sort of intended chronology in the book, the author has a tendency to jump around the timescale. I was particularly bewildered as to why Sereny decided to address Bell's early life at the end of the book - it would have made far more sense to include it at the beginning and it would've really helped to develop an understanding of Mary's actions and personality. I actually believe that I may have seen the whole situation in a different perspective if she had included that information at the beginning. 

Unfortunately, I was disappointed with several aspects of Cries Unheard but as aforementioned, I did also find it interesting and gained a lot of knowledge about Mary Bell and her life so far - I am glad that I read it despite its faults. If you're particularly interested in this case or are interested in what happens after a child is convicted of murder in the UK, this is worth a read.