REVIEW: Hunting Charles Manson

I’m going to make this a quick review for a few reasons. The first is that this is obviously non-fiction and about Charles Manson. The second is that I was not fond of this book at all and, if I’m being entirely honestly here, I ended up skimming most of it.

Having had something of an obsession with Manson for many, many years now, I have read countless books on the Summer of ’69 as well as books about what factors made Manson who he was. Earlier this year I reviewed an ARC for Nikki Meredith’s The Manson Women and Me, which I absolutely adored. This time, Lis Wiehl’s book Hunting Charles Manson: The Search For Justice in the Days of Helter Skelter is bland and includes many things that I question.

The first red flag for me was the author stating in the Author’s Note that she is a prosecutor and reporter who believes in a Christian brand of justice. It seems like an irrelevant thing to bring up in a book about a cult who was fairly against organized religion that didn’t centre around Charlie himself. Not only that but several times throughout the book, some of the profanity is censored out and some of it isn’t, causing me to question what facts have been twisted for the sake of the story and the author’s personal opinions.

Next up is that she doesn’t automatically use the names of the victims in the murders on Cielo Drive (aka. The Tate Murders), instead saving them for the following chapter when the “survivor” in the guest house in brought into the mix. It felt disrespectful to me and most people my age probably don’t know what the victims looked like (other than Sharon Tate) so only using descriptors felt like an odd choice. Not only that, but when Wiehl does go into the life of William Garretson, she focuses a lot on his drug habits and his friendship with the immigrant groundskeepers of the property. In other words, there’s a lot of irrelevant information here.

I’m not going to say any more because, quite frankly, I’m really disappointed. This time period that helped spark the Satanic Panic while also doing so much politically is fascinating to me, but this author does not do a good job of getting her points across, instead choosing to rehash the facts in a way that feels censored and manipulated. Not to mention that unless readers are truly familiar with the members of the Family – meaning both their names and their “Family names” – it can be confused to remember who is who.

The only decent thing about this book is that it got me working on my cross-referencing and fact-checking skills as I often found myself looking at other sources to make sure the information was accurate (which, based on my knowledge, not all of it was).

If you want a good read about the cult, I highly recommend you read Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, The Manson Women and Me by Nikki Meredith, and Manson by Jeff Guinn.

36576143Author: Lis Wiehl (with Caitlin Rother)
Published: June 5, 2018
Pages: 336
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 9780718092085

Synopsis: In the late summer of 1969, the nation was transfixed by a series of gruesome murders in the hills of Los Angeles. Newspapers and television programs detailed the brutal slayings of a beautiful actress–twenty six years old and eight months pregnant with her first child–as well as a hair stylist, an heiress, a businessman, and other victims. The City of Angels was plunged into a nightmare of fear and dread. In the weeks and months that followed, law enforcement faced intense pressure to solve crimes that seemed to have no connection.

Finally, after months of dead-ends, false leads, and near-misses, Charles Manson and members of his “family” were arrested. The bewildering trials that followed once again captured the nation and forever secured Manson as a byword for the evil that men do.

Drawing upon deep archival research and exclusive personal interviews–including unique access to Manson Family parole hearings–former federal prosecutor and Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl has written a propulsive, page-turning historical thriller of the crimes and manhunt that mesmerized the nation. And in the process, she reveals how the social and political context that gave rise to Manson is eerily similar to our own.

REVIEW: By Nightfall

Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall is a story of yearning for something more. Beautifully told with the background of the the SoHo neighbourhood in Manhattan, Peter and Rebecca’s lives become a metaphor for what is needed versus what is desired and the importance of knowing the difference of that.

The Story

Peter and Rebecca Harris are an art curator and a magazine editor, respectively. They live the lives of those in New York City that have enough money to not worry about their lives while still being “average” enough that they aren’t entirely obnoxious or elitist. Slightly above average lives for slightly above average people. But then Rebecca’s young brother, an ex-drug addict who has decided he wants to be an artist or an art curator, comes to stay with them and Peter’s life goes off the rails enough to keep things interested. He becomes enamored with Ethan, thinking of him as the beautiful muse his life has been missing. The pretty young thing that will make everything make sense.  However, Ethan is more of a handful than Peter is able to handle…

The Characters

Peter is a typical middle-aged man in crisis about his life. His wife, Rebecca, is in a similar state of mediocrity but is not stressed out about it. Ethan – or Mizzy (short for “The Mistake”) – is a typical 20-something stoner type with too much time on his hands and not enough boundaries. There are several side characters as well ranging from other middle-aged art dealers or pretentious artists to Peter’s daughter who he’s sure doesn’t love him. To be entirely honest, I was bored by most of the characters. Peter’s love affair was so minor and quick it almost went unwarranted and proved him to be a rather unpleasant person. Rebecca had almost no character at all. Ethan was – as I mentioned before – just a typical druggie type that I have personally had the misfortune of dealing with myself.

Conclusion ★★★

In conclusion I honestly only finished this book for two reasons: 1) This was an audiobook and helped pass the time at my day job (which allows me to wear headphones while I work) and 2) Hugh Dancy was the one reading the audiobook.

Were it not for Dancy’s rather soothing voice, I don’t think I would have made it through. The prose is almost hypnotic and created a beautifully vivid depiction of New York, and there are few things I love more than an author who is capable of such powerful descriptions. However, the story was bland and the characters unrelatable. I am still giving this 3 out of 5 stars, however, because I highly enjoyed Hugh Dancy’s performance for the audiobook (he does voices) and as I said, the descriptions of the city and the artwork were stunningly clear.

Not my taste, but I won’t tell people not to read it.

PS. – Yes there is a male/male “romance” involved in the story, but I would personally not count it as LBGT+ representation.


Published: September 28, 2010

Summary: Peter and Rebecca Harris: mid-forties denizens of Manhattan’s SoHo, nearing the apogee of committed careers in the arts—he a dealer, she an editor. With a spacious loft, a college-age daughter in Boston, and lively friends, they are admirable, enviable contemporary urbanites with every reason, it seems, to be happy. Then Rebecca’s much younger look-alike brother, Ethan (known in thefamily as Mizzy, “the mistake”), shows up for a visit. A beautiful, beguiling twenty-three-year-old with a history of drug problems, Mizzy is wayward, at loose ends, looking for direction. And in his presence, Peter finds himself questioning his artists, their work, his career—the entire world he has so carefully constructed.