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Customer reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars

on 16 November 2017
Read this book after reading the long drop which is about the same subject. The book was very factual and interesting as it depicted the true life of the subject Manuel and his life of crime. He is shown to be a petty criminal who graduated to more serious crime and became a callous serial killed. A well written book which I can recommend to others.
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VINE VOICEon 1 April 2009
I am something of a crime buff, reading a lot of true crime books and writing articles on the subject, but I must confess I had heard almost nothing about the case of Peter Manuel before picking up this book. Im sure for a generation of people around in the 1950s Manuel is well remembered and reviled, but for people of the younger generations very little seems to be said about him. For this reason I was eagerly anticipating the release of MacLeod and McLeod's "Peter Manuel: Serial Killer".

Peter Manuel, nicknamed the Beast of Birkenshaw, was convicted of killing 7 people in Scotland in the 50s, and was hanged at Barlinnie prison for his crimes. It is almost certain he killed another girl, police are convinced he killed a Newcastle taxi driver and speculation links him to anything up to 18 murder cases. This book is the story of his crimes and of his trial, at the time said to be the trial of the century at least in part because halfway through Manuel sacked his defence and represented himself.

The book is obviously well researched with interviews with people involved as far as possible and extensive, and sometimes newly released, source material used. The writers are also careful not to buy into the "myths" surrounding Manuel, but instead produce a non-biased assessment of the man and the investigation/trial of his crimes. The conclusions they reach about Manuel and the case are well backed up with good research and logic.

My only real criticism of the book, if I could call it a criticism, is that sometimes the narrative is a little difficult to follow. However, I suspect this is less because of the writing skills of the authors and more because of the massive complexities of the man, the crimes and the investigation, with the widely varying accounts by Manuel and his fantasies about reality only serving to make the case more complex. The authors have actually done well given the material they have to cover to make the narrative something approaching easy to follow and to hold the attention of the reader. They have also been careful to explain where necessary the difference on the Scottish legal system from that of England so that the reader can understand the narrative, without going into overcomplicated detail.

The writers do not hold back on giving their honest opinions about the protagonists in the case, for example they are scathing about Manuel's father and his subsequent admission after his son's execution that he had lied in court on his behalf. However, they are also appropriatly compassionate to the victims families and indeed some of Manuel's family too which all serves to highlight the non-biased approach they have taken to the book. They also do not fall into sensationalist writing as many crime writers do, but are instead realistic e.g. they only attribute crimes to Manuel for which they think their is sufficient evidence, rather than speculating. I also liked the fact they did not use the book to make a case for or against capital punishment as this issue would only cloud the case they are examining - a pitfull a number of crime authors whose accounts I have read have fallen into.

If you are looking for an account of the psychology of Manuel and an idea of why he may have committed his crimes this is probably not the book for you though. The focus is more on a narrative of events and analysis of what crimes Manuel committed and how he committed them rather than an analysis of the working of the man himself. The book does touch on this, for example reporting what psychiatrists who examined Manuel concluded about him and looking at his period of probably fained insanity in an attempt to avoid execution. However, they admirably acknowledge that they have no specialist knowledge of forensic psychology so do not try to make judgements on this themselves.

Overall, I found this to be an excellent account of this case which has made me want to read further around this subject. I would say it is a particularly good book to read if you want to get a basic knowledge of this case before perhaps reading another book on the psychology of Manuel.
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on 8 June 2016
Congratulations to Hector MacLeod for producing a compelling and well researched account of the life and crimes of Peter Manuel, the infamous Scottish serial killer.

In this biography we learn of Manuel’s family background and upbringing. Despite the fact that he was from a loving and stable family, Manuel was constantly in trouble with the law even from the age of twelve. His offences ranged from stealing to violent assault and for these he was sent to approved schools and borstal but from which he continually absconded. By the time he was a young man a criminal lifestyle had already set in and Manuel became well known to the Lanarkshire police as a thief, housebreaker, vandal and rapist, just not the type of guy anyone would want to meet on a dark night. For the rape, he is sentenced to eight years in Peterhead Prison, the toughest prison in Scotland, and there Manuel is totally out of control. Whenever there is a riot, a smashing or a fight in the jail, Manuel is right in the centre of it. The authorities find that the only way that they can control him is to keep him locked up in solitary confinement. Yet Manuel uses this time to study. He reads law, improves his vocabulary and shows himself to be a talented artist. He also undergoes a psychiatric examination and is diagnosed as an aggressive psychopath.

Manuel spends six years in Peterhead Prison, being released in 1952 and despite his improvements, Manuel, who is also an habitual liar, fantasist and exhibitionist, quickly returns to his villainous, violent ways. In 1955 he is charged with rape, but successfully defends himself. However, he is about to degenerate even further into serial killer. His killing spree begins in 1956 with the murder of Anne Kneilands, and in the course of the following two years, he goes on to kill Isabelle Cooke, the Watt family and the Smart family. When Manuel was at large there was a very real feeling of terror in Scotland.

Manuel was arrested in 1958 and held at Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow, where he confessed to the murders. Manuel was put on trial for his life at the Glasgow High Court and in a move which caused a sensation, Manuel sacked his lawyers and conducted his own defence. Manuel tried to convince the jury that he was an innocent man with surprising skill and cunning, showing himself to be calm and calculating in the face of conviction. However, the jury saw through his lies and found him guilty of seven murders (the charge relating to Anne Kneilands was dropped for lack of evidence). Manuel was executed at Barlinnie Prison and even in the condemned cell he tried to evade execution by feigning insanity and by manipulating those around him.

This brilliant book is an excellent introduction for anyone who is fascinated by this most enigmatic of serial killers. The author focuses on the crimes of Manuel and the hunt for him rather than analysing Manuel’s personality and the forces which drove him. Even by today’s standards, Peter Manuel’s story is a chilling one and I would recommend this book to anyone who wants find out more about one of Britain’s most reviled killers.
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on 12 August 2016
I remember when Manuel was on the go.I Iwas quite young but can remember the adults talking about him! This is an amazing book and so well written and researched. The part about his hanging really made me feel as if I was there!
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on 17 February 2017
I found this very true the different police forces did not talk or help each other if the did he would have found quicker. Dave. Jones
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on 18 April 2015
Ordered book, it arrived very promptly, thank you. I have only read first chapter so far, but very pleased with it
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on 22 January 2017
Good but a bit repetitive. If you were around at the time... Read it.
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on 3 December 2016
Very informative. excellent reading.....
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on 27 April 2009
Great book, couldn't put it down. Goes into depth about the trial and the mind set of Scotlands famous serial killer.
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on 3 July 2015
What can I say?
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