I can often be found scouring bookshops both high street and online for the best true crime has to offer – a show such as the Enthusiast doesn’t write or research itself, you know – so of particular interest to me a short time ago was when I noted that Pen and Sword Books were preparing to release a book concerning a notorious British case that has long held my interest, the murders of Patrick Mackay. For the well-read true crime buff, Patrick Mackay surely needs no introduction – but to recap; he was imprisoned in 1975 for life after having confessed to a scourge of horrific murders; and has long been suspected of several more. Perhaps most notable to the casual enthusiast because of his frightening, memorable, passport photograph that is widespread, this has undoubtedly helped Mackay’s case become an addition to the prospective list of cases for several true crime podcasters, with for many years the single definitive source concerning Mackay’s crimes being the 1976 book “Psychopath: The Case Of Patrick Mackay”, by authors John Clarke and Tim Penycate.
Well, that definitive source has now changed.
Journalist John Lucas, the former chief crime correspondent for the region of Essex’s main newspaper The Echo, has studied and recounted the Mackay case and has as a result produced a book entitled “Britain’s Forgotten Serial Killer: The Terror Of The Axeman”, that Pen and Sword Books were kind enough to send me a copy of to read and review. At 220 pages, from the off it doesn’t appear daunting to the potential reader, and the cover art (which contains the notorious passport photograph I mentioned above) is striking enough to make it memorable. Also contained within are several photographs – always a plus point for a true crime book – and although many of these have been reproduced several times over the years in different formats, there are several that won’t have seen the light of day for many.
But it’s once you begin to turn the pages, even from the excellently and honestly set out foreword of the book, that you begin to think – wow. Intelligently written and argued throughout, and refreshingly unbiased, the 220 pages set out in a comprehensive, logical order Mackay’s life and crimes, from his birth and early life, through detailed accounts of his known crimes, right through to his confessions – it even, unlike many other accounts of the case, focuses upon Mackay AFTER his imprisonment. Written in an involving, informative style, it part reads almost like a novel – until you realise you are reading Mackay’s own accounts from his confessions. Also contained within are excellent, unbiased and detailed accounts of other crimes that Mackay both confessed to that were left to lie on file following his imprisonment, or unsolved crimes that Mackay has long been linked to, or suspected of.
Now I am always impressed with depths of research and detail in books, and consequently I have been known to collect several different books about a specific case based on the amount of detail contained in each. I have to say that the depth of research John Lucas has undertaken for the entire book is nothing short of phenomenal and commendable, I really cannot commend the detail contained throughout the book enough. You’ll find all those obscure things that an author would have proper had to dig out – specific amounts of fines, times, dates for example – all contained within. But it doesn’t just read as a list of statistics to impress – they have been researched and put together to support the engaging context that make this an unmissable book, and an instant true crime classic. When I’d completely read Britain’s Forgotten Serial Killer, I was placed in mind of the last time I read something so well written, detailed and engrossing – the late Gordon Burn’s books concerning The Yorkshire Ripper and The West Murders.
And if you have read those, then you will know what a compliment that is indeed.
I commend John Lucas for his time consuming, painstaking work, and for adding to my true crime shelves a permanent, welcomed addition – it’s easily become and will remain THE definitive book about the Mackay case. When I do review books, I am always honest and unbiased, and for as much praise as I can give, I will also criticise where I see fit to – I don’t see the point of a review if you don’t do that, give the good and the bad. But I have absolutely no criticisms here whatsoever, I thought it was an excellent, well researched and referenced, staggeringly detailed and gripping account on all fronts. An instant classic that belongs on the bookshelf of any true crime enthusiast – it certainly does on mine.
Britain’s Forgotten Serial Killer: The Terror Of The Axeman is out now, available from Pen and Sword Books.