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4.4 out of 5 stars46
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on 23 January 2007
At times, this book is hard going. I knew the story of Nilsen prior to reading, and so had an idea of what to expect in terms of the content of the murders. And to be honest, the crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer make for even more unpleasant reading. That is not to diminish the evil of this man, just to say that it is not one long sqeam-fest.

I took issue with 2 points. Firstly, Nilsen is an egoistic man who delights in talking about himself. He enjoys the analysis, attention and 'fame', and events in recent years (demanding gay pornography, fight to publish his autobiography, letter to the Evening Standard detailing the first murder)have done nothing to change my mind on this point. Masters points out that Nilsen's work colleagues & few friends tired of his constant protesting & inability to know when to shut up. This very much shines through in the book. Essentially he came across as a tedius man, too locked in his own solice. Retrospectively he has manipulated the evidence to create his own 'version' of events, & this makes me disbelieve lots of what he has to say.

Secondly, Masters comes across, especially at the beginning of the book, as someone fixated on creating a 'setting'. Some of his narrative is tedius, the descriptions of a Scottish childhood especially kitch - I cannot imagine many Scots identifying with the romantic imagery he presents us. Neither did I go for the 'heartfelt' summaries of the lives of some of the victims - sometimes they are so embroiled in crime & drugs no amount of prose can presnt them as 'young boys with a potentially bright future ahead of them'. It is slow to start, & although the death of his grandfather must surely have had an impact, I got the feeling that visions of drowning at sea were no more than the fantasies of a pre-pubecent boy. Where he excels are his detailed and unbiased descriptions of the murders & trial. By this point, Masters had really gotten into his stride, & I couldn't put it down. Would have been even better to have more detail on the seedy underworld Nilsen had to enter in order to meet his victims.

In conclusion, a book which sways from deeply factual to highly emotive. As long as you can get through the shmaltz at the beginning, you will enjoy the meticulous analysis at the end.
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on 5 February 2004
Now this is what a true crime book is supposed to be. It's my unfortunate conclusion that the majority of true crime books are a re-hash of newspaper reporting with a bit of old-fashioned moralizing thrown in and facile, superficial conclusions regarding some of the most troubling issues that beset us to wrap things up. The books written by Mr. Masters are exceptions to this seemingly universal rule. Granted, Mr. Masters was given an unusual amount of access to Dennis Nilsen, but even when writing about an already-dead murderer like Fred West, the quality of writing and analysis never wavers or loses its inherent fascination. His style is alternately cogent, harrowing, and, despite the subject matter, scrupulously fair. Unlike most true crime books, there are no boring stretches; the book remains compelling throughout. Mr. Masters never denies the criminals he writes about their complex, warped humanity (which, in turn, makes them even more terrifying and repellent) but he also never minimizes the monstrousness of their acts. This is an exceedingly difficult accomplishment, to make such perversity even marginally explicable, but Mr. Masters handles it adroitly. Still, even in the hands of as skilled a biographer as Mr. Masters so obviously is, the sordid mystery of Dennis Nilsen remains intact, which may or may not be gratifying to the incarcerated serial killer but should unsettle the rest of us. How did such malignancy and evil evolve from so uneventful a life? How long would this bland civil servant with his rigid personality have been able to go on killing gay men undetected if he hadn't grown so self-destructively careless? How many others like him are there out in the world now and to what new levels of atrocity will their pathologies extend in the future? That such questions can't really be adequately answered by anyone is probably the most haunting element one will take with them after a reading of this or Mr. Masters' other biographies of psychically-crippled murderers such as Jeffrey Dahmer and Fred and Rosemary West.
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on 26 May 2001
Brian Masters delivers a very interesting and detailed account of Dennis Andrew Nilsen, the almost alcoholic civil servant who could only find peace with the dead bodies of young, often vagrent, men. He details Nilsen's background and childhood very well and this provides a large insight into why he became what he is today.
I was constantly moved by Masters' portrayal of Nilsen's life, despite the crimes that he committed. Nilsen was someone who experienced no real love or affection in his life and because of this, he closed his emotions and became "cold". One can easily understand why he did what he did.
This book is a must read for anyone who is interested in the psychology of serial killers and it presents a warning to society of what might become of the unloved.
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on 11 April 1999
Having read numerous "in-depth" books on the serial killer I was expecting another documentation of a killers deeds,but,instead this book attempts to take you into the killers mind and to try to "understand" his motivation for the acts he performed. Chilling in it's telling of each murder, the author tries not to sensationalise (as this is not needed!).You are sickened and intrigued in turn. By the end of the book you feel as if you know exactly how and why this man felt the need to kill, and I personally felt almost sorry for a man who was so clearly unhinged, being sentenced as a sane man.A brilliant insight, a must for all true murder fans!!
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on 9 April 2000
This book is written in such a way that you feel you even knew Nilsen. It is a long time since I have read a book that I simply could not bear to put down. And at the end I still could not make up my mind whether he really was guilty of pre-meditated murder or not. Gripping stuff.
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on 20 January 2015
Killing for Company by Brian Masters

‘Killing for Company’ is a biography of the life of the serial-killer, Dennis Nilsen who murdered several young men in the late seventies and early eighties. It tells the entire story of his life from childhood in the far reaches of northern Scotland, a place rife with incest apparently, to his life in the army and civil-service. Obviously, the central part of the book is focussed on his murders of several young men in the late seventies and early eighties before examining in some detail the possible reasons for these despicable crimes.

I have long been (perversely, no doubt some will say) fascinated with murder, torture and pain and the minds of those that commit such atrocities, but it is only in the last twelve months, since I have been reading some fabulous fictional works about the subject, that have started to give it some real thought. Such works include those by Joe Conlan, Graham Masterton and Chris Carter. I am enthralled with what must go on in the minds of these perpetrators and as such, I am fascinated by those novels that go into great depth about the thoughts and actions of the killer. However, they seem few and far between of late and most of the police procedurals that I have been reading have come up short by concentrating exclusively on the work of the police and detectives and barely mentioning anything done by the killer at all.
To further my curiosity and interest in this subject, I began looking up online (Wikipedia etc.) the lives and deeds of real-life serial-killers such as Peter Sutcliffe, Charles Manson and now, Dennis Nilsen. However, this never provided enough information that I could trust, so I started looking for more. I caught the end of a television documentary about Nilsen recently and after finding that it was not being repeated any time soon, I downloaded this book.

Of course, it is the tale of his murders and thoughts behind them that really attracted me to this book. As a bi-sexual man, he often took young men home to drink and share meals and interestingly, it seems that very few, if not all, of the murders had no real planning or pre-meditation. He probably took dozens of men home to his flats but he only, if only is the right word, killed sixteen of them. Several of these murders, he claims to have no memory of. He seemed to slip between two personalities and once he came round to being Dennis Nilsen, the civil-servant again, he would often be surprised to find a strangled, dead body in his room. He even ‘rescued’ at least one of his victims who did not die outright.

What I find most fascinating though about this man is that he interacted with the corpses in his flats. He washed them, shaved them, dressed them and would sit and watch television with them. He would converse with them and keep them for several months. He would store them under the floorboards and bring them out when he wanted their ‘company’. I found it particularly striking when he talked about going to work in the morning and would leave a body in the bath, waiting for his return. I find it fascinating that he would be at work all day, doing his job, interacting with his colleagues, eating his lunch, answering phones and generally going through his daily duties while all the time being fully aware that in his locked flat, a corpse was lying in his bath.

This is not a book for the squeamish but it is nevertheless, a fascinating look into the mind of a seriously disturbed man and should provide something for anyone interested in the crime genre of literature and indeed life.
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on 5 August 2012
I remember writing to Nilsen years ago when I was doing a psychology course, and he expressed amusing hated for this book, despite his collaboration on it. He stated that; "Brian Masters could not distinguish a serial killer from a cereal packet!"

Personally, I liked it.
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on 8 December 2011
This is probably the nearest we are going to get as far as knowledge goes about Nilsen until the files are released by the Met in decades to come. The author gives a detailed account of Nilsen's life and crimes and avoids moral judgements. He makes much use of Nilsen's copious writings and his interviews with the killer.

The few issues I have is that the section on Nilsen's birthplace doesn't help much and is 8 pages wasted. The author makes several errors when discussing Christie - who only used alcohol with one victim, didn't see his grandfather's corpse aged eight (he was 11) and wasn't a necrophile. Much of this book is based almost entirely on Nilsen's own accounts, and though in some cases this is inevitable - dead victims can't talk - in other cases it would have benefitted from input from Nilsen's colleagues, neighbours and others who came across him. It may have been that the author tried to contact these people and they were reluctant to talk, but I think he could have said so. I also think that a heavy degree of scepticism might have been useful when there's such a heavy reliance of the words of Nislen.

On the whole, a very good book. Naturally grisly, but an admirable effort by the author and well worth reading if this is your genre.
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on 15 January 2010
Recently (november 2009) Dennis Nilsen's first victim was finally identified as 14 year old Stephen Dean Holmes. I consequently reread Masters' book on Nilsen, which I had first bought and read in the late 1990's.

This remains the definitive work on Nilsen, made with his cooperation and drawing heavily on Nilsens own texts. As Nilsen's autobiography and other works (which he wrote in prison) have consistently (and perhaps understandably) been repressed by the Home Office, this is as close as we'll get to Nilsen, for now.

In light of the recent identification and the description of the first murder in the book (which the author by his own admission edited to prevent (false) recognition by survivors)the book could use an updated edition, which I hope is in the works.

On a personal note:I would have prefered Nilsens own writings to be more available. The versions in the book are edited or, as far as they are in his own hand, hard to read. Also one could argue the book relies too much on Nilsens words, but then he is the only living witness in most cases.
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on 5 September 2009
this book is not only a masterpiece in the genre but spectacularly well written without any hint of the sensational.i have read maybe 100 true crime books, but this work,a brilliant study of the deranged mind, sets the bench-mark by which crime writers or indeed any serious writer of any genre,should aspire. i read this book when it was first published and have just re-read it and MASTERS has left me awe struck again. WOW.
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