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 The Keep by Jennifer Egan

The KeepThe Keep by Jennifer Egan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t know if I am being overly critical of this book but it really didn’t live up to my expectation. This might be partially down to the details on the jacket. The hype around the Pulitzer prize not helping.

This book even has the following on the back cover:

‘A gripping and ghostly gothic tale…one of those rare books that reminds you exactly why you love reading’ – Daily male.

So, this is your warning, the ghost element of this book is pretty bare. There is certainly no fear factor and limited ‘ghostly’ atmosphere (in my opinion).

However, the story isn’t bad. Young guy, financially unstable, who is a bit of a nobody, rarely makes ties or puts down roots and lives by the call of the Wifi signal decides to uproot and go and work for his rich enigmatic cousin restoring a castle into a luxurious hotel where all is not quite as it seems. Sounds good right?

So, trying to figure out why I didn’t love this story, I think there were a couple of reasons:
• The writing was driving me nuts. The speech was depicted in a sort of script form and even then not consistently so, often it was not identified at all. So following the flow was painful, to say the least. This is a genuine extract of a phone call within the story but this writing style continues throughout the book, so distinguishing between thought and speech is rather frustrating.

Danny: Martha –
She was right, he was going to say it. And he did: I love you.
And you love me.
You’re losing it.

• The novel was full of melancholy and there were very few areas of light to be found in the pages. I understand that the job of a novel in this genre is to make it dark and brooding but there is very little contrast.
• The novel changes narrator. I don’t think this is a spoiler as it happens fairly early on. In the end the stories tie in etc so it’s not really a problem of loose ends. However, I do read a lot of dual timeline and time slip novels and there is just something jarring in the way this story is woven together it feels very jarring.
• There was no wow factor. I kept waiting for something unpredictable, some kind of plot twist, something I’d overlooked to come back to light, but it never arrived. That very thing that keeps you reading just never happened so it left me feeling a little deflated and unrewarded as I had ploughed my way through the book to the end.

I didn’t give this a 1 star, so here is what I liked about the book.

• I like the concept of this book. Not only the storyline of the Castle and all it’s dark brooding but the second storyline of the woman teaching writing in a male prison. There was a definite interest there for me and I am disappointed that I did not enjoy it more.
• The themes of the book deal with a lot including childhood trauma, gothic horror (castle), prison, romance, affairs, wealth, leadership, etc etc. which I appreciate is not an easy task.
• The scenes of Danny walking around the castle grounds are a nice touch, particularly the pool and of course the keep with its strange occupant, a malevolent baroness who refuses to vacate the castle

Overall, not great but not bad either. I don’t know, maybe I missed something? Others seem to love this book but it just didn’t live up to what I was hoping for from the description.

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Review of Deadlight Hall by Sarah Rayne (Nell West #5) – 5 Stars

Deadlight Hall (Nell West/Michael Flint #5)Deadlight Hall by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel continues as entry #5 in the Nell West series and we catch up with Nell and Michael a little after the events of “The Whispering”. In this story, Michael takes the forefront of the strange circumstances with Nell becoming more of the second character and completing the secondary research investigation role. I really enjoyed the author’s ability to switch back and forth making two strong protagonists, that’s strengths differ and keep the series fresh and alive.

In this novel, Rayne also continues along the war theme, this time it is Nazi Germany that is the focus. To be honest the book blurb captures the essence of this story better than I could word it: Leo Rosendale’s childhood was blighted by a macabre tragedy in the grim Deadlight Hall – twin girls vanished, their fate never discovered. What took place there, one long-ago midnight? Michael and his fiancée Nell are unprepared for the shocking truth.

The historical sections of this novel really stand out, very well researched and enjoyable. The novel takes us through various histories of Deadlight hall from the 1870s, the 1940s war evacuation, and then into modern times. The story from Leo’s childhood being the most dramatic of the three storylines. I absolutely love the description of the old house and the wartime era, rules and superstitions captured in this novel really made the storyline vivid.

I think Rayne has done a great job of developing Michael and Nell’s personal relationship too. For returning readers it is handled very well and the progression can be seen, but it’s also not distracting and confusing for first-time readers. Although I would recommend reading the series in order, I think the users could read out of order without too much of a worry. For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie.

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Review of How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst – 5 Stars

How I Lost YouHow I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I even opened this book I was hooked, of all the taglines I have seen this has got to be one of the best – “They told her she killed her baby, She served her time, What if they lied?”
This book is about a woman named Susan Webster who is accused of killing her baby Dylan whilst suffering from terrible post-partum depression. Susan has no recollection of the incident but all those around her; doctors, police & even her husband tell her she has done this terrible crime. When she gets out of prison and starts her new life as Emma she receives a photo of a small child claiming to be Dylan. Throwing her fresh start out the window Susan (with some help from a journalist and her previous prison inmate) begins to hunt down the truth. Can she find it in the web of lies that surrounds her?
This is Jenny Blackhurst’s debut novel and she hasn’t half burst her way onto the crime fiction scene. Her writing style is very fluid, sharp and clear keeping you gripped from the very first page. Loads of twists and turns and hints of information and characters dropped in at just the right time. So many underlying secrets that you can’t tell who is a goodie and who is a baddie.
Psychological thriller huge genre with similar stories out there yet this still stands out very much on its own as a great storyline and excellent writing. If you liked Before I go to Sleep by SJ Watson style of suspense writing then I think you will enjoy this novel.
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Wow! Dazzling Debut Novel. Can’t wait to read more from this author.

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