Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Cromwell Street Murders – John Bennett

Non Fiction
4*s

I don’t read much in the way of more recent true crime but the one exception is those horrific murders carried out by Fred and Rose West. These murders were committed in Gloucester, the largest city to where I spent the latter part of my childhood and where I moved to when I first left home. I already lived in Jersey and was heavily pregnant when in 1994 the garden at 25 Cromwell Street was dug up to reveal the bones of young women.

In the intervening years there have been many books written and I thought I had read them all. Somehow I missed this one, from the perspective of Detective Superintendent John Bennett QPM, the officer in charge of the investigation.

This is an interesting read which takes us behind the scenes and gives some context to what the police knew, in contrast to what the media were able to reveal, and what information they were seeking. John Bennett also works hard to bring the victims and their families to the fore of the investigation, to give them the respect they were so cruelly deprived off when they met their fate at Fred and Rose West’s hands.

Although of course the book doesn’t avoid the murders it certainly doesn’t dwell unnecessarily on them. Instead we have a reconstruction of the house which once stripped of the lurid tabloid details is revealed to be far smaller than might be expected pretty much laying to rest any idea that horrific murders could occur without other adult residents being aware of the fact.

The book is well structured starting with the lead detective giving his recollection of how and why steps were taken to question Fred West further over his missing daughter Heather. The days that followed which included the key revelations made by Fred are all laid out in chronological detail.
Although the book hinges on the crimes of two utterly depraved individuals what it does best is show the reader how a murder investigation really is run. Some parts are devoted to gathering evidence the exact nature of the bagging for forensic purposes, the managing of the media, the questioning of witnesses and of course the horrendous job of talking to potential victim’s families. When you consider that this relatively small police force was handling one of the biggest murder investigations of the British Isles it gives you some idea of the sheer complexity of the task in hand.

John Bennett attempts to be candid about those officers he feels didn’t perform as he would have expected and you get the feeling that there was more on that score that could have been said. This along with tales of family occasions missed and touching tributes to his patient wife while providing some semblance of context became to my mind a little overblown by the time we’d heard various examples. I can’t be the only reader who was shocked at his wife’s reaction during Rose’s trial, particularly as we’d been told that he never discussed any details at home.

This book was definitely informative and in the main incredibly readable and provided me with another viewpoint of this huge murder investigation.

First Published UK: 2005
Publisher: The History Press
No of Pages: 528
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Love As Always Mum xxx – Mae West with Neil McKay

Non-Fiction
5*s

Fred & Rose West’s crimes were shocking and I well remember the days at the end of February, beginning of March 1994 when the papers were full of nothing else than the awful rising count of bodies found in a garden, and under a cellar floor, in Gloucester. As the details unfolded I felt a personal pull; I had lived near and in Gloucester, I’d certainly walked along Cromwell Street and Heather West was the same age as me, or would have been if she hadn’t been killed and buried under a patio.

In 2011 Neil McKay’s drama documentary Appropriate Adult was shown on UK TV. This looked at the effect that sitting in on the interviews between Fred West and the police had on the woman designated his ‘appropriate adult.’ The writer had gone to great lengths to look at the psychological impact on the people involved in the investigation. Mae, the eldest surviving daughter of Rose and Fred West was involved in the project and he persuaded her to tell the world what it was really like growing up, and what the last twenty plus years have been like being the daughter of probably the most notorious of all female serial killers. His assistance with the book mean that while Mae’s own words shine through the structure and overall feel is that this is a well-written and thought out book.

Because of my early interest I have read most if not all of the books written about the crimes but I was very interested to hear how Mae came to terms with the realisation that her mother had been far more involved than Mae had wanted to believe. I truly believe that when we obviously recoil from the crimes that their parents committed we forget that the children in the house at the time were innocent and yet they bear the scars not only of their upbringing but also the scars of people’s reactions when they find out who they are. This is a side of crime and the awful ripple effect that is rarely examined.

I’m not going to pretend this is an easy read but I’m glad to say it doesn’t dwell on accounts of the murders themselves, although of course they do feature, rather this is Mae’s account of things she remembers from childhood; Heather and her younger brother Stephen feature largely here because of the first three children of Rose and Fred West were close in age. Mae is at pains to impress that while there was abuse and other unsavoury things going on at home, they also celebrated birthdays, had a lovely sit down Christmas lunch and were turned out to school in spotlessly clean clothes and Rose took the children to school she picked them up at home time. In other words her childhood wasn’t so very different to mine, or I suspect any other child’s in the same era. Mae also puts to bed the lie that the West children knew no better than the way they were bought up. Even as children, as children generally are, they were aware where the differences between their homelife and those of those of their peers. They were embarrassed by ‘sex noises’ leaking into the street and the fact that their father compulsively stole, and abused his daughters.

The extracts from Rose’s letters add another psychological study which is impossible to solve although Mae gives her views on what the letters sending her love from inside prison to the life her daughter was building with such a terrible shadow hanging over her.

What most impressed me is that Mae manages to get across that just because she was played a very bad hand in the cards of life she has her own aspirations, she has passed the right values onto the next generation as have her sisters who she remains close to. I say to those who criticise her decision to write this book, who are we to judge and perhaps if you remove the sensationalism surrounding the author and read the words, this is a study of a number of psychological issues.

First Published UK: 6 September 2018
Publisher: Seven Dials
No of Pages: 461
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Hidden Legacy by G.J. Minett – Paperback Publication Day

Psychological Thriller 5*s
Psychological Thriller
5*s

I first posted this review in November of last year when Graham’s debut novel was being published in eBook by Twenty7 books, an imprint for debut novels. This book wowed me in so many ways, something which I confirmed by writing another review for A Great Crime Novel Recommendation in memory of book blogger Maxine at Petrona Remembered.

Well today The Hidden Legacy is out in paperback so now is your opportunity to get a copy and read this book for yourself – if you need persuading here is my exuberant review from November!

Every now and again a book really hits all the individual spots that make perfect reading experience for me, this is one of those books!

In 1966 in a school playground in Gloucester, there is a horrific crime committed by a young boy, just eleven years old. Two points hit already; I lived near to, and in Gloucester from the age of nine and didn’t leave the area until I was nineteen so I have a geographical point of reference and I’m really interested in children involved in crime, in fact I only had an exchange about this matter with the learned Margot Kinberg on one of her posts earlier this month. Anyway back to the plot; John Michael Adams was sent to trial and the media went into a frenzy calling him ‘Every Parent’s Nightmare’, and as the book continues, we see that this interest never truly fades away, with every related story or supposed sighting of the grown man, causing a re-hash of the crime complete with his picture and his tag-line. So here is point three, how crime reporting effects both the victims and the perpetrators is also an interest of mine – why do some stories become big news whilst others get barely a mention?

In 2008 Ellen Sutherland, receives a solicitor’s letter from a firm in Cheltenham, some way from her home in West Sussex. Reeling from divorce and busy running a business as well as carrying out the multitude of tasks and pointless conversations that are involved in bringing up two children she is unimpressed that she has to visit the office in person, especially as she has never heard of her benefactor, Eudora Nash. She wants to ask her mother whether she knows who Eudora is, but Barbara is in a home suffering from dementia and so unlikely to be able to solve the mystery. Point four, and this is a biggie, I really enjoy a story where the past comes crashing into the present, and it is this that drew me to this book in the first place. When there is a proper and realistic mystery too as there is in The Hidden Legacy– well a book gets a bonus three points!

Ellen travels alone to find out what her legacy is and to her delight it was worth the drive, a beautiful three bedroomed house complete with contents, but she is no closer to finding out why it was left to her. Already puzzled and confused her suspicions are aroused when from stage left a journalist, the wonderfully portrayed Andrew O’Halloran, appears on the doorstep. At this point Ellen begins to keep her own secrets and starts her investigation into Eudora’s life for real. On returning home she recruits her friend Kate (point eight, I like my protagonists to have friends and ones who are real people not just bystanders) for a road trip the two women travel to Gloucestershire to rifle through the old lady’s papers and to talk to the locals.

And if you want to know any more you are going to have to read the book for yourself. Rest assured the plot is devious and sneaky and thoroughly believable. The writing style is engaging, I really didn’t want to put this one down for anyone or anything, there are plenty of red herrings, detours and locations as the action spreads up to Inverness, through Gloucestershire taking in West Sussex on route, and best of all age old secrets that are ultimately uncovered without descending into farce. So as you see, even if some of the subjects I like to explore in my reading aren’t the same as yours, there is an enormous amount for any reader to enjoy. In fact when I finished writing my review up I went onto Goodreads to get the cover picture for the book and was astounded to see this book currently has a high rating of 4.53, unusual for a debut that as far as I know hasn’t undergone massive hype prior to its publication (in e-book format) on 5 November 2015. This time slip thriller is definitely going to end up on my Top Ten of 2015, enthralling yet giving the reader a reason to explore the effects of a crime on everyone involved – and I will award my final point for this reason.

If you want less gushing and more facts about the book, here is the synopsis

ONCE YOU KNOW, YOU CAN’T FORGET

Ellen has received a life-changing inheritance. If only she knew who had left it to her . . .

1966. A horrifying crime at a secondary school, with devastating consequences for all involved.

2008. A life-changing gift, if only the recipient can work out why . . .

Recently divorced and with two young children, Ellen Sutherland is up to her elbows in professional and personal stress. When she’s invited to travel all the way to Cheltenham to hear the content of an old woman’s will, she’s far from convinced the journey will be worthwhile.
But when she arrives, the news is astounding. Eudora Nash has left Ellen a beautiful cottage worth an amount of money that could turn her life around. There’s just one problem – Ellen has never even heard of Eudora Nash.
Her curiosity piqued, Ellen and her friend Kate travel to the West Country in search of answers. But they are not the only ones interested in the cottage, and Ellen little imagines how much she has to learn about her past . . . Amazon

Paperback Published UK: 25 August 2016
Publisher: Twenty7 Books
No of Pages 448
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Hidden Legacy – G.J. Minett

Psychological Thriller 5*s
Psychological Thriller
5*s

Every now and again a book really hits all the individual spots that make perfect reading experience for me, this is one of those books!

In 1966 in a school playground in Gloucester, there is a horrific crime committed by a young boy, just eleven years old. Two points hit already; I lived near to, and in Gloucester from the age of nine and didn’t leave the area until I was nineteen so I have a geographical point of reference and I’m really interested in children involved in crime, in fact I only had an exchange about this matter with the learned Margot Kinberg on one of her posts earlier this month. Anyway back to the plot; John Michael Adams was sent to trial and the media went into a frenzy calling him ‘Every Parent’s Nightmare’, and as the book continues, we see that this interest never truly fades away, with every related story or supposed sighting of the grown man, causing a re-hash of the crime complete with his picture and his tag-line. So here is point three, how crime reporting effects both the victims and the perpetrators is also an interest of mine – why do some stories become big news whilst others get barely a mention?

In 2008 Ellen Sutherland, receives a solicitor’s letter from a firm in Cheltenham, some way from her home in West Sussex. Reeling from divorce and busy running a business as well as carrying out the multitude of tasks and pointless conversations that are involved in bringing up two children she is unimpressed that she has to visit the office in person, especially as she has never heard of her benefactor, Eudora Nash. She wants to ask her mother whether she knows who Eudora is, but Barbara is in a home suffering from dementia and so unlikely to be able to solve the mystery. Point four, and this is a biggie, I really enjoy a story where the past comes crashing into the present, and it is this that drew me to this book in the first place. When there is a proper and realistic mystery too as there is in The Hidden Legacy– well a book gets a bonus three points!

Ellen travels alone to find out what her legacy is and to her delight it was worth the drive, a beautiful three bedroomed house complete with contents, but she is no closer to finding out why it was left to her. Already puzzled and confused her suspicions are aroused when from stage left a journalist, the wonderfully portrayed Andrew O’Halloran, appears on the doorstep. At this point Ellen begins to keep her own secrets and starts her investigation into Eudora’s life for real. On returning home she recruits her friend Kate (point eight, I like my protagonists to have friends and ones who are real people not just bystanders) for a road trip the two women travel to Gloucestershire to rifle through the old lady’s papers and to talk to the locals.

And if you want to know any more you are going to have to read the book for yourself. Rest assured the plot is devious and sneaky and thoroughly believable. The writing style is engaging, I really didn’t want to put this one down for anyone or anything, there are plenty of red herrings, detours and locations as the action spreads up to Inverness, through Gloucestershire taking in West Sussex on route, and best of all age old secrets that are ultimately uncovered without descending into farce. So as you see, even if some of the subjects I like to explore in my reading aren’t the same as yours, there is an enormous amount for any reader to enjoy. In fact when I finished writing my review up I went onto Goodreads to get the cover picture for the book and was astounded to see this book currently has a high rating of 4.53, unusual for a debut that as far as I know hasn’t undergone massive hype prior to its publication (in e-book format) on 5 November 2015. This time slip thriller is definitely going to end up on my Top Ten of 2015, enthralling yet giving the reader a reason to explore the effects of a crime on everyone involved – and I will award my final point for this reason.

I received my copy of The Hidden Legacy from Midas PR on behalf of Bonier Publishing with their new imprint Twenty7 which was established last year to focus on debut authors and international writers new to the UK markets. This imprint will cover all commercial fiction genres with a focus on crime and women’s fiction. All I can say if their other finds are as good as this one, readers are in for a treat. I’d like to extend an especially big thank you to Eve Wersocki from Midas who has provided me with some excellent books this year with her finely tuned radar which seems to know just what kind of books I enjoy.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Corpse Garden – Colin Wilson

True Crime 3*'s
True Crime
3*’s

Having read and reviewed Rose West: The Making of a Monster late last year my recommendations were filled with more books about this couple and among them was The Corpse Garden which I hadn’t read.

This book seeks to explain why Fred and Rose spent their time torturing and killing girls but for me the writer’s conclusion was stated early and everything that followed was used to bolster his belief.

The premise is that Fred’s motorcycle accident caused damage to his frontal lobe and he became a ‘sex maniac.’ To me this doesn’t take into account that his father and brother John are alleged to have shown similar sexual tendencies. Rose is labelled a nymphomaniac by Wilson, one who happened to meet another dominant personality and together they egged each other on. There is also quite a lot of repetition and the time lines aren’t as clear as in Jane Carter Woodrow’s later exploration into what caused these two seemingly normal people to murder so many young women.

Where Colin Wilson excels in this book is by making comparisons to other serial murders as well as highlighting the differences and here his extensive knowledge comes to the fore.

I found this a hard book to read, there is a lot of emphasis on what happened to their poor victims which isn’t pleasant and I didn’t find the answer which is how did a normal young woman, she was only 17 at the time of the first murder, turn into a serial killer and how did no-one notice what was going on in this seemingly normal house close to Gloucester City centre.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Rose West: A Making of a Monster – Jane Carter Woodrow

Crime - Non-Fiction 5*'s
Crime – Non-Fiction
5*’s

Well, I was visiting my brother over the weekend and saw that he had this book and I hadn’t read it, so I borrowed it. I have mentioned in the past that I miss looking at what everyone else is reading now so many people read on e-readers but have now decided this wasn’t the best choice of book to read on a train, in Costa and most definitely not when I was the one who had to empty their belongings at security at the airport! The security woman’s ‘Is it a good read? I wouldn’t give her the time of day!’ question left me weakly stating ‘I’m not a serial killer, honest!’  One rare moment when I didn’t want to talk about a book.

So why did I choose this one from my brother’s bookshelf? Well I used to live in Gloucester, I had grown up nearby, where the West’s had their ordinary house.  Heather West whose body was the first to be discovered, was born the same year as me and the horrendous find was made while I was waiting for my youngest to be born. In fact all the news at that time was about these two killers. I am also interested in crimes that appear to go against female nature and so a book that seeks to explain how one woman could go on to carry out such horrendous acts was a must read.

I have read many books about the Wests as a couple but this is the first one that went into Rose’s background in detail.

This fascinating book doesn’t concentrate so much on the horrendous crimes committed by Rose West but seeks to understand quite why this young woman became a killer. The first of the murders she was convicted of occurred when Rose was just 17 years old!

Jane Carter Woodrow follows Rose’s life chronologically, starting with her birth following her mother’s electric current therapy throughout her pregnancy with Rose. Using the accounts of the neighbours, relations and the few friends I think this book benefits with the time gap since Rose’s conviction, giving a more balanced view of events. This isn’t a book that in any way seeks to condone the rapes and murders, after all, as the author points out, many people have a tough start to life but don’t go onto be killers. It does however try to explain how Rose’s psychological make-up and the warped view of what relationships consist of caused this particular woman to sink to a level of depravity almost unheard of.

For anyone who wishes to understand more about the most notorious of female serial killers you can’t go wrong with this book.

So thank you to the Irish gentleman in Costa who had a good laugh at my expense but did return the book after I nearly left it behind, I will now pop it in the post to its rightful place on my brother’s bookshelf!

Rose West: The Making of a Monster