Pen & Sword True Crime Round-up Reviews

I have so many Pen & Sword books to review (because they keep releasing so many that I want to read!) that I’m doing multiple reviews in a single post. Today I’m writing reviews for the true crime books I’ve read recently.

The Secret Serial Killer
On the evening of 21 August 1983, Metropolitan Police detectives raced to the cells of London’s Clapham Police Station to find a prisoner dead and his cellmate sat cross-legged and quiet in the corner.

Kieran Kelly, a labourer from Ireland, quickly confessed to strangling the prisoner – and then stunned officers by confessing to dozens of unreported and unsolved murders over the previous 30 years.

Detectives believed they were in the presence of Britain’s most prolific serial killer yet Kelly was convicted on just two of his admissions and his story went unnoticed until 2015, when a former police officer who worked on the case claimed the killer’s crimes were covered up by the British Government.

Strangulations, murders on the London Underground, an internal Metropolitan Police review – as the story’s elements whipped the international news media into a frenzy, journalist Robert Mulhern set off on a methodical search for the truth against the backdrop of an ever-increasing body count.

Could Kieran Kelly really have murdered 31 times?

My Review

I had not heard of this case before, and I was intrigued because I thought I’d heard of most of the major serial killers in Britain in the last fifty years, There has been a lot of speculation and sensationalisation about Kieran Kelly, much of it encouraged by former Police Officer Geoff Platt, alleging that Kieran Kelly had murdered 31 people, 12 on the tube. He wrote a couple of books about it and apparently does cruises. He also says the crimes were covered up by the government for some reason.

Robert Mulhern does an excellent job of chasing down as much of the truth as possible after so long. The only certainty is that Kelly killed his cell-mate William Boyd in August 1983 and Hector Fisher on Clapham Common in 1975. He may have also killed five or six other homeless people, but the police weren’t able to prove anything and his own solicitor called Kelly a ‘fantasist’.

As much an investigation in to the life of Kieran Kelly and an investigation into the claims that were making headlines and their author. Mulhern travels from London to Ireland and back, trying to check the details and speaking to people who knew Kelly as Ken.

Mulhern spoke to a lot of other people, including more police officers involved with the Kelly case in 1983/1984, and Geoff Platt himself. Among those Mulhern spoke to was ‘Officer A’, who had access to a lot of the paperwork and the new Inquiry, and retired D.I., Ian Brown, a detective on the Boyd case, who objects to being called a liar.

The evidence suggests Kelly murdered five or six homeless people during drunken rages, but had nothing to do with any deaths on the Underground. It also suggests that Platt is making hay from his minor part in an unusual case of murder in a police station. There’s some really good investigative work in this book, with multiple interviews from the people who were there.

Britain's Forgotten Serial Killer

Serial killer Patrick Mackay was dubbed the most dangerous man in Britain when he appeared in court in 1975 charged with three killings, including the axe murder of a priest. The Nazi-obsessed alcoholic had stalked the upmarket streets of West London hunting for victims and was suspected of at least eight further murders.

Now, after more than 40 years behind bars, where he has shunned publicity, Mackay has been allowed to change his name and win the right to live in an open prison – bringing him one step closer to freedom. For the first time, Britain’s Forgotten Serial Killer reveals the full, untold story of Patrick Mackay and the many still-unsolved murders linked to his case.

My Review

Patrick Mackay is a bit of a sad sack, who took out his own insecurities first on his mother and sisters, and then on local kids, before moving on to murder people who tried to help him. Usually elderly women. I’ve heard about him before so I couldn’t understand the title of this book. And then I got to the last chapter.

Patrick Mackay’s crimes were sensational at the time – priests found hacked to death in their baths will cause a fuss – but over the years he’s been forgotten. Murderers with higher body counts have pushed him into the background. He’s changed his name and now lives in an open prison. Brady or Sutcliffe would never have been allowed to do that.

The author sets out a biography of Patrick Mackay and his potential involvement in other unsolved crimes that match the crimes he was convicted for. If you’ve never heard of this particular serial killer, this book is a good place to start.

Britain’s Unsolved Murders
Britain has its fair share of unsolved murders. Crimes that have both fascinated and horrified in equal measure, with many as baffling today as they were when the stories first hit the headlines in the national press. Spanning 100 years between 1857-1957, this book re-examines thirteen of these murder cases and retells the stories that have endured and confounded both police and law courts alike. Each chapter provides an account of the circumstances surrounding the killing, of the people caught up in the subsequent investigation and the impact it had on some of their lives. It also explores the question of guilt and to whom it should, or should not, be attached. Each of these murders poses an undeniable truth; no-one was ever proven to have committed the killing despite, in some cases, accusing fingers being pointed, arrests being made and show trials taking place. Consequently, notoriety, deserved or otherwise, was often attached to both victim and accused. But was it ever merited?

From the questionable court case surrounding Scotland’s now famous Madeleine Smith, and the failed police investigation into Bradford’s Jack the Ripper case of 1888, to the mysterious deaths of Caroline Luard and Florence Nightingale Shore at the start of the twentieth century, this book disturbs the dust, sifts the facts and poses the questions that mattered at the time of each murder. Did Harold Greenwood poison his wife in Kidwelly? Who was responsible for the Ripper-like killing of Emily Dimmock and Rose Harsent? Why did Evelyn Foster die on the moor near Otterburn in what became known as the Blazing car murder and who strangled Ann Noblett to death in 1957?

These are just some of the cases examined and the stories behind them. Each and every one, no matter how appalling the crime, still deserving of justice.

My Review

This book covers thirteen murders from 1857 – 1957, some quite well-known and some less so. The author gives the details then discusses the possible killers, as far as he is able to after so long. Each chapter is detailed and the photographs and images provided are helpful. It’s a fairly easy to read book that you can pick up to read a chapter or two then go back to later.

A good place to start if you’re interested in unsolved murders.

Crime on the Canals
Throughout our islands’ history we find tales of thieves, smugglers, thugs and murderers. Books have been written retelling tales of bandits, footpads, highwaymen, et al, attacking the lone traveller, the horseman, the coachman, shipping line, locomotive engineer, lorry or van driver and even pilot. Yet for almost two centuries the majority of goods travelled on Britain’s famed canal network. This also attracted felons of all kinds and yet many of these tales had been ignored, until now.

Within these pages all manner of crimes are covered. From murders to muggings, parental problems to pilfering, arson, assault, smugglers, counterfeiters and even road rage (albeit canal-style). But it is not all morbidity and misery, humour also plays a significant part in these tales. Why would a hungry man steal the inedible? Follow the policeman on foot chasing down a thief on board the narrowboat. Discover what really lies beneath the waters of the canal. Learn about canal etiquette, the hardships, the kindness and the cruelty.

From an author whose fascination with etymology has produced many books on origins of place names, leading to an interest in the historical modes of travel across our islands, this book is the latest to follow old routes and those found along them.

My Review

Well, this one was different. Since the network of canals around England were first dug in the early years of the Industrial Revolution to the modern use of them for pleasure, crime has taken place. Murder, mugging, coal theft.

I found this book sludgy going at times, although at others it was really fascinating.

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