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.
I was kindly offered the chance by Pen and Sword Books Ltd to review a newly published book concerning a subject that has long held my interest, a series of crimes in London by an Irish born down and out, Kieran Patrick Kelly. For those unfamiliar with the case, Kelly was a homeless alcoholic who was convicted in the mid-1980’s of two brutal murders – one committed whilst he was in custody even – but is suspected of several more, including being acquitted of two, and numbers as high as 31 total murders that he may or may not have been responsible for have been bandied around. Kelly is known most familiarly as “The London Underground” killer, due to the crimes he was acquitted for involving people being pushed under trains on the London Underground. However, an exact number of crimes cannot be ascertained – as often there is little more than a claim by Kelly himself to go on.
It is an unfamiliar case this one – unless you have a full-on library and produce a true crime podcast, that is – but it is an interesting case I came across many years ago, and indeed, read a separate book about a couple of years ago. However, I was left very much less than impressed with that particular book – so I looked forward to reading another, hoping for a better account of what I consider an interesting case, and was only too eager to get a copy of “The Secret Serial Killer: The True Story Of Kieran Kelly”, written by award-winning journalist Robert Mulhern, when I learned it was due for publication.
Now, I believe that any review should be completely honest, and by this, I mean the positives and negatives of any book are looked at and told to the reader – which of course, are my own opinions. It’s what I have done with every book I have reviewed, and shall continue to do so going forward. As it’s a vague, unfamiliar and almost undocumented case, it was always going to be a challenge to write about the crimes of Kieran Kelly, and author Robert Mulhern has clearly spent considerable time, expense and effort doing so – and has done it well. A disclaimer at the open of the book states that its aim is to present the truest version of events concerning the case as it can, and what there is within the book is very well researched and documented. It’s told from the point of view of the author and his researching of the book in a chronological order, and contains transcripts of his interviews with various ex police officers and legal counsel involved with the case, plus people who knew and remember Kelly, that comes across as a conversational narrative. There is a good, well written and presented account of the crimes that Kelly was sentenced to life imprisonment for, and the trial concerning this – there are even photographs contained within of official documents such as death certificates, location photographs and prison correspondence within that show the depth of research that Mr Mulhern has undertaken – I always commend details and real finds like this, and it always helps make a memorable book for me.
However, although each chapter is short – often just a page or two in length, so is easy to read, there is a lot of repetition within the book. This is unavoidable really, and this is no slight on the author here, because as I have said it is a difficult case to have researched due to the lack of concrete evidence or identifiable victims available – so quite often it may jump from alleged case to confirmed one and back several times over in just a short number of pages. Whilst the chronological narrative of the author helps here, it may leave the casual reader scratching their head somewhat to keep up. Sometimes as well, and again, this is a personal note, there were elements where it seemed almost like a fictional story really – for example, there is use of onomatopoeia to describe the sounds of cars driving past, or e-cigarettes being inhaled that I thought was pointless to include.
It is an interesting book overall I thought, with a level of impressive research that makes it THE definitive study of a case that is destined to forever remain one that tantalises and intrigues the student of true crime.
“The Secret Serial Killer: The True Story Of Kieran Kelly” is available now from Pen and Sword Books.
The True Crime Enthusiast