An attentive, subtle rendering of a strange historical episode, alternatively disturbing and absurd.



A well-told narrative of the popular hysteria surrounding a mysterious, misogynist slasher who stalked London a century before the Ripper.

London physician Bondeson (The Two-Headed Boy, p. 851, etc.) provides a muscular recreation of the socially chaotic metropolis of 1790: street crime and vice were endemic among a dense populace, with professional policing in its infancy. A series of attacks on female pedestrians, in which a “vulgar-looking man” slashed at them with a knife while uttering profanities with a “tremulous eagerness,” was rapidly conflated into a “Monster mania,” aided both by the £100 reward offered by outraged Lloyd’s insurance broker John Angerstein and by the circulation of inexpensive bawdy prints (which first capitalized on the Monster’s tendency to slash his victims’ buttocks, then were used to cast aspersions on miscellaneous London ne’er-do-wells as Monster candidates). Finally, a fishmonger who was courting an early victim apprehended under suspicious circumstances one Rhynwick Williams, a shabby, impoverished artificial-flower maker with rude habits regarding women—who nonetheless had a strong alibi. After nearly suffering mob justice on several occasions (as had various of the falsely accused), Williams was convicted following two raucous trials, and he ultimately served several years in prison. Bondeson composes a narrative surprisingly attuned to the complexities of this example of popular mania. He maintains a droll voice, in keeping with the bawdy nature of many conflicting original sources. Duly noting the chauvinistic tenor of the time, he ably captures the constrained social circumstances of the young women who were Williams’s accusers, as well as such flamboyant personalities as Angerstein and, memorably, Williams’s opportunistic champion Theophilus Swift. The latter is a dissipated descendant of Jonathan Swift well known in London for his dueling and for his slanderous pamphleteering and whose mockery of victims and general incompetence in Williams’s second trial surely poisoned his chances. Bondeson also offers intelligent discussion of “epidemic hysteria and moral panic,” examining similar recurrences in England, France, and wherever else circus-like atmospheres obscured the realities of serial violence.

An attentive, subtle rendering of a strange historical episode, alternatively disturbing and absurd.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8122-3576-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Univ. of Pennsylvania

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2000

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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