CHARMER by Jack Olsen


A Lady's Man and His Victims
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 Best-selling true-crime writer Olsen's latest account of psychopathic terror is little more than a chronological retelling of the basic facts. This time Olsen (The Misbegotten Son, 1993, etc.) looks at George Russell, who, after an adolescence characterized by minor offenses like marijuana violations and the theft of a friend's rare penny, committed the extraordinarily grisly murders of three women, for which he was convicted and sentenced to life. The book is split in two. The first half lopes through Russell's various oddities and abusive relationships with women, and the second half dives into the pulp, the awful acts of a maniac. Olsen's reporting is as plodding and unimaginative as this color-by-numbers structure suggests. He intimates that a dance club called the Black Angus, where Russell spent much of his time, fueled the future murderer's latent sexual anger. It was there that Russell sat beside the DJ booth reading a newspaper and drinking some of the drinks included on the bar's extensive list of mixers. Unfortunately for the reader, Olsen feels the need to catalogue the suggestively named drinks--e.g., ``Sex on the Beach'' and ``The Sloe Screw''--as well as their every ingredient, loading them in the meanwhile with an exaggerated significance as portents of Russell's violent misogyny. The stretch is typical of the book, which has the feel of uninteresting or mishandled material. Olsen ominously sprinkles the text with references to Russell's race (he is black) but does nothing with it, leaving the reader with an incomplete picture of the man and his motivations. The book's overall weakness is highlighted by its liberal use of quotations from books by psychologists on psychopaths as Olsen scrambles for the cover of ``expert'' testimony that adds nothing. Olsen weakly justifies his stripped-down narrative by saying that, unlike creative true-crime writers like Truman Capote or Joseph Wambaugh, he is among those who ``try to remain with the facts.'' Russell's compulsion to kill is less in evidence here than is Olsen's compulsion to churn out yet another murderous tale. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 21st, 1994
ISBN: 0-688-10903-9
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1994


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