The story of Arthur Shawcross is appalling in so many ways. There is just something utterly monsterous and reprehensible about him that I often felt almost viscerally as I read this book. But it was this ability to make me feel so intensely that made this possibly one of the best books of the genre I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot.
The late Jack Olsen truly was truly remarkable at his ability to write true crime. The amount of research behind this book was obvious. And I love the way he captures the voices of not just the killer, but the victims and the killer’s family members, not to mention those of everyone involved with the cases. I thought I knew a lot about this killer before reading The Misbegotten Son, but Olsen’s drive to chase down every fact showed me I did not.
Shawcross was brought up not far from my hometown, in Watertown, NY. I was only two when the first two murders occurred, but he was still a part of the infamous side of north country history. That only increased when the murders in Rochester came to light. He’s an interesting person in that, well, he’s really not that interesting as a garden-variety sociopath. It was the crimes themselves, and the people involved, that were so fascinating. It was that that kept me riveted to the page. It was the perspectives that spanned the spectrum that were so fascinating. Mary Blake was the mother of the first victim, 10 yo Jack. She rode the police mercilessly to find her son, and later to find justice for him. She pushed them to investigate Shawcross. But how she felt about her son’s killer changed wildly over the years. Clara Neal, a longtime girfriend, could see no wrong in him, even after his arrests. The voices of law enforcement, those of mental health professionals… all of it created an intense picture of Shawcross and his brutality.
It was just a gripping read, one I highly recommend for true crime buffs.