An account of the crimes of Arthur Shawcross describes how the paroled child killer shot, stabbed, suffocated, and strangled 16 Rochester, New York, prostitutes and examines how the legal system failed his victims.
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Not the Typical True Crime Book
As this narrative begins, you aren't sure whose story this is. It starts with Jack, the first victim of Arthur Shawcross. Throughout the book, the author gives us the stories of the victims and their families, as well as the perspectives of the detectives, Shawcross's lovers, wives, and mother. The result is as fully a realized picture of the madman as can be had.
Even with all of the detail, it is clear that the author--and nobody else for that matter--understood what made this serial killer tick. Child rape and murder, murder and mutilation of prostitutes, cannibalism, and necrophilia--this man did it all, and at the end no one is sure why. Even the murderer himself seems baffled by his crimes.
Compared to the Green River Running Red and BTK, two books I've recently read about serial murderers, this book left me feeling more remote from the killer and his crimes. The reader was never given entrance into Shawcross's head in the same way as we were allowed to examine Gary Ridgeway and Dennis Rader. At the end of Misbegotten Son, a psychiatrist gives two theories about how a man like Arthur Shawcross could have developed, and I think that his ideas are an interesting perspective, but not a conclusion.
Narrating this book must have been incredibly demanding. The diverse formats (interview, letter, testimony, written account, etc.) combined with an overcrowded cast of perspectives to make this engaging for the reader--but a nightmare for the man tasked with giving them all voice! Kevin Pierce, as always, did a magnificent job. He was able to portray both sides of Arthur Shawcross: the altruistic, childlike outdoors-man and the sadistic, victim-blaming, rage filled murderer. Especially in the portions of the text where Shawcross is describing his crimes in written or audio-recorded accounts, Pierce uses his talents to illustrate the murderer as a petulant lunatic with a sub-normal IQ without creating a caricature.
Non-fiction of any kind does not lend itself to an overly dramatized style of narration. That's why Kevin Pierce is one of my favorites; his is always a subtle yet engaging narration that illuminates rather than dramatizes the characters.
This book has everything: the gory details, the heart-rending effects of a murderous rampage on the victims' and the murderer's families, and the history and analysis of what makes a killer. Even with all that, though, the book generates as many questions as answers.
Reads like a novel, very well written.
Jack Olsen was/is at the very high end of the true crime genre, and with this book dug very deep into the big Why of a horrible horrible series of events. The author examines the old cracks in the system that should have protected the citizens of NY state, and it's both heartbreaking and infuriating to think about.
This book made me queasy in spots - fortunately those sections turned out to be the killer's sick fantasies. (As if the truth of his actions wasn't disturbing enough). Kevin Pierce is terrific at reading true crime in particular, no overacting, excellent narration and the dialogue just sounds conversational, believable. Afterwards I felt compelled to see the killer interviewed on YouTube, and saw just how amazingly accurate Olsen's description of him was. All in all a real eye opener.