Top critical review
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Excellent - with some reservations
on 12 April 2013
In many respects, Handsome Brute is a fine book. It is diligently researched, and unlike so much in the true crime genre, is never mawkish nor prurient, but rather, provides a genuinely empathetic portrait of the victims, which never wallows in the grisly details of their deaths. At its heart, this is also a thoughtful, serious attempt to understand Neville Heath's complexities: the forces and events that shaped him, and the impulses which drove him to commit his dreadful crimes. The Heath of Handsome Brute, is anything but one-dimensional. A letter written to his ex-wife in South Africa while he languishes in prison and his final days draw near, is eloquent and moving; reading it one has to remind oneself of the lives he has obliterated, and how he is the architect of his own grim fate. The final chapters - including O'Connor's description of Heath calmly heading to the gallows, and asking for a shot of whisky as a final request ("While you're about it, sir, you might make it a double") - are vividly drawn and sharply written. However, the flaw in this book, and for me, what prevents this being a five star review, is the poor editing and repetitive phrasing earlier on. For such a carefully researched book, it really could have been edited better. A far from exhaustive sample of some of the incessant repetitions that pepper the early chapters, and that in the end diminished my enjoyment of the book, include: Page 46 "... a new wave of crime was booming..", page 47 "..the black market was booming"; page 49 "... Two hand-tinted photographs [show] a stylish, good-looking and very happy family...", page 51 "..Their wedding photograph shows a stylish, happy couple..."; page 64 "Margery's situation was typical of many women's lives at the time...", page 66 "like many women at that time, Margery only drank beer.." and so it goes on. Handsome Brute is an excellent history of the period, and O'Connor's dogged research is admirable, but more care in the writing and editing could have elevated the book to the status of true crime classic.