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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