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This review is of the paperback book "Life Means Life" by Nick Appleyard, the rather bleak story of the 36 people currently in British prisons who have been sentenced to a life sentence in jail which actually means they will stay behind bars for life.
True-life crime books aren't my usual choice of reading material, but this one was in the local library's "just returned" section and it had a rather bizarre appeal to find out more about why these men and women did what they did. As the author notes, "the crimes involved are of unparalleled savagery, perversion or scale". There is no denying the crimes are truly awful, but it led me to wonder whether Nick Appleyard could piece together some meaning behind why they did what they did.
There are 35 sections in this book, as Peter Sutcliffe isn't on the official list as his tariff hasn't been formerly set by the judicial process, although it is highly likely that he will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Without going into the details here, there have been some recent legal changes requiring judges to set tariffs, which makes the sentences passed less comparable.
The author is right in his comment that, "some of the killers you will have heard of, others you will not". Although I don't particularly follow this kind of subject, I was surprised to see some individuals sentenced quite recently for very serious crimes that I cannot recall seeing in the media, although I'm sure they must have been reported at the time. It does though show how the media continue sometimes to report on some of the criminals much more than others, although usually with good cause, the ones that involve the death of children have an extra dimension of evil.
Here is not really the place for details of some of the crimes committed, but there were some particularly bizarre individuals whose motives really could never be understood, such as Robert John Maudsley (Hannibal the Cannibal, given the name due to his eating the brain of one victim in prison) who was sentenced to life for one murder, but managed to kill three more behind bars.
Some, such as Victor Miller, actually confessed to the killing of a young boy after being arrested for a totally different crime. He then in court asked the Judge for the longest sentence which he could be given, and has said that he never wishes to leave prison.
The legal stories of others are interesting, Arthur Hutchinson, the man who raided a house and killed the bride's father, mother and brother, and then raped the sister, was given 18 years in prison. Only later did the Home Secretary increase this to life, and Hutchinson began numerous legal appeals to reverse this, all unsuccessfully.
But does Appleyard get to the bottom of why men and women commit these awful crimes? In short, I'd suggest that the answer is no, he has to cover a lot of ground in the book, covering the back stories of all of the cases, and it doesn't really give that insight of the characters.
However, what the book does do very well is given an over-view of the subject, which has meant that I've read up on several of the cases, out of interest, to find out a little more. If that was what the author had hoped to do, then in my view, he has been successful. It is a very easy book to read in terms of the style of writing, it's easy and accessible to read one chapter at a time because the subjects are all in separately defined chapters.
With regards to the book's pricing, I think it's very commendable that the book is available on Amazon's Kindle to download for just 99p. By the time VAT, Amazon's fee and the like are taken off, the publisher may not get much, but hopefully they will sell in volume in reward for making the book affordable. Some other publishers seem to make considerably less effort.
The paperback version, which is reviewed here, retails at 7.99 pounds. At the time of writing, it's available new from Amazon themselves for 5.83 pounds including postage, or for a little less new from third party sellers. Second hand copies are just over four pounds including postage at the moment.
The book's ISBN is 9781844546688 and the book was published by John Blake in 2009. The book is 288 pages long.
Overall, a fascinating book, which for me at least has been a very good introduction to the subject. The details of the legal processes early on in the book are informative, without being too dry and long-winded, and the stories of each character in the book are very well researched, and interesting to read. It's not the most cheerful of books to read, but it's well written, and for anyone interested in the subject, one I'd recommend.
If you have read my latest book review on Jeffrey Deaver's Twisted you'll be well aware that my favourite genre for reading material is crime be it real-life crime or fictional criminal plots. With that in mind it is no wonder that Nick Appleyard's Life means Life book appeared on my 'recommended' list on Amazon.
Nick Appleyard is not an author that I recognise and when researching his other works I was unable to recover any previous books or articles that he'd been involved with whether my search was too vague or there are no previous work by Nick Appleyard is unknown so it's not known if crime is his main vice but this book has been researched it's optimum.
The book is a collection of the 36 individual prisoner's stories from their torrid crimes to their childhood lives but there is one difference; these individuals will never be free from prison. The individual stories capture the whole story and covers the who, what, where why and when which enables the reader to get a full grasp of the kind of characters we're dealing with.
This is the first book to collate all of Britain's 'lifers' stories into one book but despite there being quite a surprising number of inmates in prison who will never be free, this doesn't compromise the detail Appleyard goes in to. There are interviews, witness statements and evidence which have never been seen before in the public eye so these really do make for an interesting read.
The stories are detailed but are kept full of action and suspense meaning that the stories are quickly read and I often found myself unable to put the book down. Nick Appleyard is particularly good at explaining crimes and describing their aftermath. A difficult thing which Appleyard also manages to do is allow some insight into some of the victim's lives with creates a sense of pathos and makes us dislike the perpetrators even more so!
What I particularly like about the book is the mix of criminals and therefore crimes that are recollected. Amongst the stories told are that of Ian Brady and Rose West and also some forgotten cases such as those involving murderer and rapist John Duffy.
Overall this book is a harrowing and at time disturbing read but if there is anything positive to take from the gruesome tales is that for the 36 involved in this book life really does mean life.