Sunday, 4 May 2008

Nigel Cawthorne's Killers (2006) is subtitled, inaccurately, 'the most barbaric murderers of our times' but - turning to the back cover - we learn he's responsible for a lot of non-fiction.

Many - Sex Lives of the Kings and Queens of England (2004), Sex Lives of Famous Lesbians (2007), Sex Lives of the Popes (2004) - are tabloid in approach.

Cawthorne has also published a book on pirates and, the list being so extensive (sex and death dominate), it's clear he's something of a modern-day Daniel Defoe. His website lists an extraordinary amount. His research must be quick and, in fact, the present book shows signs of hasty editing.

Cawthorne is also expert on Quark Xpress (a desktop publishing application for personal computers). Possibly he sets up the files himself, which would explain the typos.

The extent of his writing (art, sport, crime, sex) and his prolific output suggest he's a non-de-plume for a full coterie of writers. I cannot believe the volume of words he's produced.

Then again, the style in Killers is pretty schematic. It's also uneven from story to story, suggesting that primary sources in some cases are more complete than in others. The Australian murderers he covers (omitting the infamous Ivan Milat) are the least well-written items.

The English ones are the best reading, most detailed, to be expected for a writer based there.

Yet all these men (a few women make the list) are household names. Many operated in the 70s and it's surprising to me that I was not aware of them at the time. Whereas now (the speed with which the media came to Columbine is signal) coverage is almost instantaneous.

Som of Sam (1976-77) would have meant nothing to me as a teenager. And why did The Family (Manson's clique, late 60s) not make it into memory?

Cawthorne's ordering is odd, too, with the Adelaide 'bodies in barrels' case (1993-99) coming before the famous American homosexual psychopath (1978-91) Jeffrey Dahmer.

The recent case of an Austrian man who kept his daughter as a sex resource for decades, brings this book to my attention. I bought it at the Co-op Bookshop's current sale (always good visiting).

My award for most depraved goes to Fred and Rosemary West. Occasionally, Cawthorne regrets that a convicted murderer kills himself in his cell. The loss of valuable 'insight' the cause. Fred West was in prison briefly, and it is entirely possible that another prisoner - or prisoners - killed him.

West is particularly repulsive in that he not only raped his own children, but pimped them out, advertising in 'specialist' magazines. (Cawthorne includes the titillating fact that many early clients were West Indian immigrants.)

Like this year's Austrian monster (the third Austrian monster in as many years), West kept on adding to his house, but not to accommodate a growing brood. His reason was to provide additional space for burials.

As for further reading the book inspires, I'd have to say that glimpses into Manson's mind Cawthorne provides - quotes here and there - would make me want to read more about this interesting individual.

As to Cawthorne's subtitle, 'most barbaric' is obviously wrong. What he means is 'individual' and 'Western' because there would have been far more, other killers out there - in one developing country or other with no press or a tame one - causing death for other reasons than the - mostly sexual ones - he details here.

It's a cheap, tabloid title. It's shallow and obvious. The book's poorly written - due to speed. But it is interesting and worth investing a day to finish. Would I bother buying any of his other titles?

Remains to be seen. Probably not.

1 comment:

David C. said...

If you want to read more about the Manson family, check out Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, who was the prosecuting attorney in the case.