3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Fresh Out Of Bejesus,
This review is from: Charles Manson: Coming Down Fast: A Chilling Biography (Paperback)
This mostly satisfying treatment of the morbidly fascinating Manson story is a great - and predictably terrifying - read for anyone who, like me, is familiar with the basic gist of what happened but has not read anything else on the subject. As for those with more knowledge, I'm afraid I can't help but I'll try to break down the contents of the book for you.
The first 40 pages deal with Manson's first 32 years - his mother's situation, him being moved around different homes and then his litany of juvenile offences and periods of incarceration, then finally his 7 year stretch in his twenties / early thirties. It was pacy and never boring but I could have done with more on this last period of prison as it seems so crucial to what happened later - it was when he started to dabble in alternative religions and psychology.
The following 100 pages are about Charlie building up The Family and pursuing his musical opportunities. This was probably the best section of the book, Wells writes about the backgrounds of many of the cult members and how they drifted into Manson's orbit, and about the day-to-day life of The Family. Interestingly, the writer keeps Charlie's dark side largely out of sight, with the effect that the reader is to some extent seduced by the fun time they all seem to be having, though I did want to know a lot more about Manson's mind-games and how he was able to keep so many people following him - it was a lot more than just wanting to keep the good life going, they hung on his every word and evangelised about him wherever they went.
Then there are 70 pages where things start to turn bad - The White Album, Lotsapoppa, Hinman - and Wells is very effective in creating a heavy, sickening sense of dread closing in around the reader (although he does lay it on a bit thick with the number of paragraphs he ends with 'little did they know it was about to turn a lot darker,' or 'it was the last time she would ever talk to him,' etc.)
The next 60 pages deal with Tate-LaBianca and the immediate aftermath and are as chilling, horrendous and just horrifically sad as you could imagine. There are no fancy stylistic tricks on Wells' part, it is just straight-forwardly journalistic and as such is the best-written part of the book even as it is the worst for obvious reasons. I must confess I was unable to sleep when I had reached this part, both genuinely frightened and crushingly depressed by it all.
Then we get 50 or so pages on the investigation period (including the killing of Shea), 30 pages on the trial, 30 on Bruce Davis (including Zero, London, Joel Pugh, Gaul and Sharp). I would have liked to know more about the investigation and trial, but I imagine this is what Helter Skelter covers. As for Joel Pugh, I feel the writer lets himself down here - it's worth mentioning if it is part of the "mythology" but Wells seems desperate to tie in Pugh's death with the Manson Family even though the information he gives the reader clearly makes any reasonable person conclude it was suicide. The evidence to the contrary appears to be that Bruce Davis may have been in the same country at the time and a friend of Pugh's later wrote a letter referring to his death as 'what happened to Joel' - a line it is possible to read two different ways. Wells even seems to imply he gives credence to some guy's book that says Davis may have been the Zodiac killer! It's such a shame as Wells starts the book keen to tread carefully around things in the legend that are not verifiable facts, such as Manson's mother being a prostitute.
The final 40 or so pages are comprised of a potted history of the main Family members since the trial, up to the present day.
It's easy to see why people can become obsessed with this story, the horror is so incomprehensible that you find yourself wanting more and more information about how it happened. On the whole a decent job by the writer - although I'm afraid this R-Format trade paperback edition is absolutely littered with typos.