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Heath was an enigma.He cannot be explained by the school that looks for the roots of criminal behaviour in deprivation and an unloving background.

In this interesting account O'Connor makes clear that Heath was born into a loving middle-class family, educated at a public school and gave no indication as a teenager that he was capable of two terrible crimes-but then this is not all that unique.

Conceited and charming he took advantage of a society that was easilt taken in by a nice accent and good looks.

Obsessed with flying he joined the RAF but was sacked for stealing. He then joined the South African Air Force but was again kicked out. Umbelievably, he was able to rejoin the RAF (they were desparate for flyers) and he took part in Bomber Command's war time exploits. He displayed outstanding bravery on one sortie when he rescued his navigator in their burning aircraft.For this he should have been awarded a medal.

This was the same man that sadistically murdered two women after the war.
He never tried to deny the murders claiming that he had blacked out on each occasion.

Sensibly, the author does not try to explain why Heath committed these gruesome murders. No one will ever know. Those who blame his war time experiences are on very thin ground. I know many ex service personnel who went through every form of hell in battle but lived perfectly normal lives after the fighting ended.
We should also remember that between 1940 and 1945 thousands of 'normal' Germans slaughtered in camps and on the battlefield millions of innocent civilians.

What this book demonstrates is that despite advances in psychiatry we are still a very long way from being able to fathom the workings of the mind.
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on 10 March 2013
This book gives a wonderful picture of wartime England and the emotional as well as the material impact it had on the people . I had some small knowledge of Neville Heath, mostly glamourized, but this book puts me right in a truthful yet compassionate way. without any sense of melodrama the Heath appears to have been doomed in spite of his supportive background. More a case of Nature rather than Nurture. The same is true of his victims to a lesser extent.
All three were victims of the time in which they lived. A documentary but a real page turner.
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on 18 March 2013
This is very well written in an unsensational way. I already had a copy of Notable British Trials dealing with this case but they, of course, do not give an idea of the psyche of the murderer. I was so wrapped up in this book I felt I was at the cinema and it was being played out before me. What a terrible tragedy, apart from the dreadful crimes, the whole thing was ruining many peoples lives for ever. Sean O'Connor has written a brilliant, in depth, analysis of this case without resorting to cheap sensationalism which so often happens. Too complex a character for any but the trained psychoanalyst to be able to start to fathom. Only one gripe, I would have like an index that would have been the icing on the cake.
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Charismatic ladies' man, killer, fantasist, liar, cheat and thief. Heath was all those things and more. This fascinating book attempts to put Heath into the context of his times and to understand how he might have been affected by his experiences in World War II as a fighter pilot living with constant danger and the knowledge that each day could be his last.

Heath committed two violent and sadistic murders of women within the space of a few weeks and many people since have tried to understand his motivations for the crimes. But he was not a stranger to crime. He had a string of petty thefts and frauds behind him and apart from time spent in Borstal he almost always managed to receive only minor punishments for his crimes. He lived under an assumed name for a time in South Africa and married there too as well as serving in both the South African Air force and the RAF.

This book shows that Heath behaved well if everything went his way but as soon as things got difficult he would disappear. He was plausible in his excuses and explanations for his petty crimes and could often talk his way out of trouble if push came to shove. He was a pathological liar and an expert at putting the best possible construction on anything he did.

Was he insane? Should he have been incarcerated in Broadmoor instead of suffering the death penalty? It is up to the reader to decide. I found this book a fascinating study of a man about whom I knew nothing before I started reading it. The book is written in a low-key style - the very opposite of the sensational headlines the case received in the newspapers of the time. I sometimes felt the author was looking for too many justifications for Heath's actions and that maybe he has more sympathy for his subject than he wanted to reveal.

Heath was a product of his time but it seems he may have shown his sadistic tendencies in his childhood and these could have been exacerbated by the stresses and strains of war time and the difficulties of adjusting to peace time life.

The book contains extensive notes on the sources used as well as a bibliography and illustrations.
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on 13 February 2013
This is a fascinating and riveting read. As someone who has long been interested in the subject, I was very keen to learn what new information had become available since the last full examination of the case 'Rotten to the Core' in 1988. I was not disappointed. Sean O'Connor has unearthed a wealth of detail from newly-released official files and personal interviews with relatives of the characters, most notably the victims who are so often overlooked in the recounting of true crimes. He has come to some startling conclusions which have led me to view these crimes from a very different perspective than before. In particular he has salvaged in part the reputation of Heath's first victim, Margery Gardner who, since just after Heath's execution has been widely portrayed as a woman of loose morals; not exactly a prostitute but again not far off and for extra titillation, a masochist. This 'fact', repeated by such learned men as pathologist Keith Simpson and Joshua Casswell KC has coloured the case for over 60 years. Sean O'Connor now casts doubt on the previously-accepted version of events and has carefully reconstructed in infinite detail what, to the best of anyone's knowledge, took place on 20 June 1946. The details of the second murder are similarly scrutinised in great depth and a rounded picture emerges of killer and victims. The whole grim saga is told with a minimum of drama and a lack of sensationalism although the detail of the actual killings is wince-inducing. I felt I had a much clearer picture of both Margery Gardner and Doreen Marshall as women rather than just murderees. Both of whom have previously been depicted as shadowy figures, almost as ciphers to be compared and contrasted, one a sophisticated but wayward civilian, the other an upright and innocent ex-servicewoman. Even Heath, whilst hardly a sympathetic character, is shown to have had a much more faceted personality than being merely a psychopathic sadist. He was clearly capable of both bravery and affection but his darker side is what he is remembered for. I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in true crime or psychology, I'm sure you will be as engrossed with the content as I was.
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on 2 March 2013
This book is an fascinating read- a real life thriller and a genuine page-turner about a forgotten true crime. The period detail is amazing and the author's insights into the characters and their motivations (even Heath's) is exceptional. The new research into the case and the revealing information about Heath's schooling and his RAF experience shed a whole new light on what is both a gripping, but also very unsettling case. I have to agree with other reviewers here, that the description of the victims' lives is also very detailed and deeply moving. The final chapter, chronicling how this case affected both the victims' families- and Heath's is genuinely tragic. I can't think of many British True Crime books that have used the crime as a tool for dissecting an entire moment in history. An extraordinarily good book.
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on 17 February 2013
True crime as a genre is fascinating because it illustrates much about psychology, what motivates people to commit foul deeds like murder (usually sex and/or money, in this case mostly sex) and how they do it. It is also very revealing how the Press handled these matters back in 1946 (and still do) and in particular how they viewed women. Heath's first victim Margery Gardner has been mentioned in almost every account of the case until now, often through innuendo, as being effectively partly responsible for her own demise as she willingly took part in a sado-masochistic act which got out of hand. Through painstaking research Sean O'Connor has demonstrated very plausibly here that she almost certainly hadn't been with Heath in a similar situation before as has been so often stated; it was a different woman altogether named here for the first time since the files have been declassified. Even statements from certain professionals involved in this case now appear to have been wrongly based on assumption. And so mud sticks. However this comprehensive account of the case is very even-handed in that equal attention is accorded to the victims; usually the spotlight falls almost exclusively on the perpetrator because Joe Public wants to know the motivation and the gory details. The Heath murders, being of an extremely sadistic nature, were certainly sickening in detail but the facts are laid out straightforwardly and without titillation. In fact there is an astonishing amount of detail of all kinds in this book, almost none of it extraneous as it all helps to build a complete picture of the case, the people involved and the unique era in which it took place, that curious immediate post-war period where ex-servicemen like Heath were unsure what to do with their lives and how to resume any existing relationships or initiate new ones. The whole country, exhausted by six years of war, was in an utter state of flux where nothing seemed certain any more. This feeling of insecurity pervades the book and the writing also shows how extensively the war itself had shaped the lives of the protagonists by offering their biographies. Furthermore, although it may at first seem rather voyeuristic to, for example, list the contents of a victim's handbag in fact it helps us to understand what a desperate situation she found herself in on the night she met her untimely end. It is important and necessary that such detail is provided. In 1946, the public found Heath's crimes shocking but nevertheless large numbers were drawn to the police court and the Old Bailey just to catch sight of the man who had charmed so many women and killed two of them. Sean O'Connor has presented a well-balanced, sober account which is thought-provoking but never salacious. An afterthought - it is tempting to imagine how such crimes would be handled by today's media, with rolling 24-hour news coverage and the internet etc, it would all be so very different.
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on 14 February 2013
Like the North London serial killer Denis Nilson, the 'handsome brute' Neville Heath was widely seen as a likeable guy. Author Sean O'Connor goes into a fascinating exploration of the charmer's background to find out what could have turned him into the sadistic killer of two women in 1946 when he was 29. But there is no obvious explanation in his family: he and his parents and brother were very affectionate towards each other. His character gives more clues as he develops into a fantasist and liar, turning to low level crime to finance his drinking and expensive tastes, becoming someone who runs away from problems (such as the court martial which halted his promising RAF career in 1936) and who expects always to be let off for his errors. But Heath was also a product of his time, his Old Bailey trial capturing the attention of the nation which was dealing with the return of "millions of soldiers, sailors and airmen - many of them trained killers". The book, very well-written and letting the facts speak for themselves, paints a time and a place, London just after the war, which was ill at ease with itself as people tried to find sense of purpose for themselves after the violence and horror of prolonged battle.
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VINE VOICEon 6 May 2013
Murders in the past had a dramatic outcome in that it was literally a matter of life and death. You learn a lot about how society used to run if you read factual accounts of old murders.
Neville Heath committed two murders in the 1940s and as a result was hanged for them. Hardly the mass serial killers that we hear about today but the details of the world that they were committed it I find fascinating. I particularly like the stories because they are talking about Britain during a time when society was much more murdered and people used to have a much more agreed idea of what was right and wrong.
Also there was not pornography on demand so most people would have had a very limited view of what happened outside their immediate experience.
Sean O'Connor has very successfully researched the backgrounds to both the crime and the period in which they were set. The war had changed people's views and certainly their experiences.
People were still respectful of characters who had been officers and acted like officers so Heath was able to get away with things because people could not believe or did not want to believe that a war hero officer would act dishonourably. He would wear a variety of uniforms and medals some of which he was entitled to. Because he had war service he knew the chat and the slang so therefore could easily convince those who me him that he was the real thing which he was because he had been commissioned three times and had been on ops and had baled out of an aircraft.
He had been to a grammar school and knew who to talk properly and act properly so he was able to fit in with ease.
He seemed to be able to easily create a new persona in a period of identity cards which was surprising that no one checked. People wanted to believe he was who he said as he was so convincing with his war stories and suavity. He definitely knew how to woo women and literally bend them to his will.
It was never really established why he became a sadist apart from his traumatic experiences and he claimed that he had blackouts and when the crime was described to him that he had no recollection. He di8dnt bother pleading insanity and just took it as if he were on an op that he wasn't going to come back from.
If you are interested in murders, the legal system and British social history this is the book for you. He briefly tells us what happened to the characters after the murders. He had a son who went on to have a normal life and may well still be alive today.
My criteria for a good book is how fast I read it and whether I would read it again. I read it in a couple of days and I would happily read it again.
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on 29 September 2013
This is true crime writing of the highest calibre. Deeply researched and crisply written, Handsome Brute grips from the first page.

Neville Heath murdered two women in England in 1946, the second while on the run from the police for the first crime. O'Connor's outstanding achievement is to transport the reader back to the time of the crimes, so richly does he capture the period and the social and moral changes wrought by the Second World War.

He researches the background of the killer, his victims and the senior detective in charge of the case to the extent that the reader feels as if he has known the people in person. You feel as if you are inhabiting the life Heath led: London's bars, drinking clubs and hotels. Equally well, the author places you in Bournemouth as it is beginning the transformation from wartime camp back to popular tourist destination.

He restores their humanity to the victims and the killer by carefully recreating their lives, drawing on original records and looking beyond the exaggeration and inaccuracies of many of the contemporary newspapers' and books' accounts of the case.

He acutely questions why Heath became a killer and how his wartime experiences and return to civilian life may have affected him. He demonstrates the inadequacy of the trial in addressing these questions.

Only start reading this thought-provoking, moving book if you know you can set everything else aside until you have finished it.
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