Review of Talking with Psychopaths and Savages

Talking with Psychopaths and Savages: A Journey into the Evil Mind by Christopher Berry-Dee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cover – Talking with Psychopaths and Savages

📖 Talking with Psychopaths and Savages: A Journey into the Evil Mind. It’s pretty easy to guess what this book is about. The title is straight to the point, unfortunately for me, the book was less so.

✍️Christopher Berry-Dee is quite an interesting author, he is (according to the intro) a direct descendent of Dr John Dee, astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I. He no doubt has a great legacy in interviewing the worlds most notorious serial killers and murderers. The book has an interesting premise, cool cover and showed a lot of promise. It also did have plenty of detailed content about a small number of murderers which fit a definition of ‘psychopath’.

When CBD actually gets into the content, he takes us through some really interesting cases such as JR Robinson, Kenneth Allen McDuff, Arthur Shawcross, Kenneth Bianchi and more. However, he doesn’t start reviewing the cases until page 73 in a 292-page book (that’s 25% of the book that doesn’t really include talking with psychopaths and savages)! That’s a lot of pre-reading before the reader gets what they came for.

🗣 CBD also has this habit of referring to his other works throughout the book. I found it incredibly frustrating and distracting from the current story. I lost count of the number of times he wrote something along the lines of:

‘I fully documented Ross in Dead Men Talking: The World’s Worst Killers in Their Own Words, first published in hardback by John Blake, 2009, but the book you are reading now is not so much about his life and crimes…

👓 These types of self-promotion are a regular occurrence throughout the book distracting from the actual topic. In my opinion, these should have been a footnote (or a bibliography) to allow the reader to look up later if they felt the desire.

I think part of the reason I found all the waffle and self-promotion frustrating is that the author also mentions (repeatedly throughout the book) how he has a tight word count by his publisher so cannot go into details he would like to.

💭 Overall View: I hate to give a negative review and I realise the content of this review is mostly negative. However, I truly appreciate there is a lot of work and research put into writing any book. This subject matter is not a pleasant one and I think kudos has to be given to anyone who managers to spend time with these individuals and trying to understand their mental state. Even more kudos in the instances the author has managed to convince the killers to reveal details of the crimes which has given the families some comfort they would likely not have had otherwise. In these areas the book is really good. Another reviewer wrote a quote that cannot be beaten when summarising this book:

You know those really annoying blokes down the pub who keep bragging about what they’ve done, and you so want to just tell them to piss off but you’re a little transfixed, so you buy them another pint then instantly regret it as they ramble on some more with just enough interesting stuff to keep you going? This book is like that. (Credit: Alyssa Cowell).

I’ve read Jon Ronson’s The psychopath test recently (my full review of that can be seen following the links below) and in my opinion, it’s a better read than this, although this one does contain many more individual cases. Ronson’s book is easier to digest and a bit more well-rounded.

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Review of Anti-Social by Nick Pettigrew

Anti-Social: The Secret Diary of an Anti-Social Behaviour Officer by Nick Pettigrew

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anti-Social is a diary showing the day to day aspects of being an AS officer. His insight into life with individuals (and families) with a variety of problems; crime, drugs, mental health issues, elderly, isolation, court cases, tenancy disputes and more.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

14 September
Not a good day. Tim calls our team and says he has serious concerns for the wellbeing of his neighbour, as well as the wellbeing of his own kids. Tim’s next door neighbour is Anne, who’s in her seventies and lives with her son Alex. And Tim worries that if something isn’t done soon, Alex is going to end up killing his mum.
Tim tells me that Anne can be heard pleading with Alex to leave her alone and to get out of the flat. This is usually accompanied with thuds and crashes, and Alex screaming abuse at his mum.

This book is interesting, it thrusts you straight into the office of a community worker from the first page, showing sometimes the only things that will get you through the day are a dark sense of humour, prescription meds and copious amounts of alcohol and Nick doesn’t shy away from telling us those facts and the toll this job can take on your mental health. It feels like a truly honest reflection (the good, the bad and the ugly).

Cover of Anti-Social by Nick Pettigrew
Cover: Anti-Social

The author offers both compassion and empathy were needed but also doesn’t shy away from the nastier individuals he comes across. He offers genuine insight into the paperwork, the funding issues, the court cases and more. There were often times on a few of his more sensitive cases when it really hits you in the gut just how hard life is for some of the individuals involved in these cases.
I would genuinely recommend this book. It’s the darker side of humanity with often the only lightness being the author’s wit. I feel anyone in the sector, particularly senior management level and above, MPs and probably the courts too, need to read this to better understand the individuals, the paperwork, and more. It’s probably the closest they will get to walking in another person’s shoes and it just might help make better-informed decisions and changes the sector needs.

I have read many books like this that give you insight into someone else’s profession (and life). Confessions of a GP by Benjamin Daniels is a similar book with some equally thought-provoking scenarios for those interested in further reading.

Overall View: Brilliant, upsetting, challenging, funny, emotional and more.

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