I received a free copy of the e-book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I finished this book a few days ago but it has taken me since then to really think about how to go about this review. It’s a bit of a sensitive topic, even now so just bear with me on this one. Also please note that while my review is free of triggers, links to various examples listed in this review may contain graphic and potentially triggering content. I would also warn that the book also contains unsettling content, so please be aware of the crime it is discussing before reading should that sort of thing be triggering to you.
Nikki Meredith’s book, The Manson Women & Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder is as much an autobiography on the author as it is a true-crime depiction of the very real lives of Pat Krenwinckle and Leslie Van Houten while they were with Charles Manson as well as their lives in prison. Woven into the lives of these young women is the life story of Nikki Meredith, herself, as she faces a different kind of struggle between her own morality and finding herself in her Jewish heritage. It a true crime book while also given great insight into the psychology behind wanting to be loved and the psychology that goes into ignorance and racism (from ethnicity to religion).
When I saw this book on NetGalley, I was excited. Even more so when I was approved for it. Since high school I have been somewhat “obsessed” – for lack of a better word – with the psychology of the Manson family and Charles Manson himself. Susan Atkins was the only of the women who I really knew about so the chance to learn more about the other women involved intrigued me. However, this book was not at all what I was expecting.
I’m going to take a moment here and make a statement: I am not condoning nor will I ever condone the actions of the Manson family, especially in regards to the Tate-LaBianca murders of 1969.
With that said, I was not expecting this novel to make me cry over Leslie and Pat. I was not expecting to feel their pain and grow physically sick at the though that these women are still in prison for a crime committed after months of manipulation when they were 19 and 23 respectively. The year is 2018 at the point and both of them are still behind bars.
Want to know who isn’t behind bars? OJ Simpson. Karla Homolka. The entirety of the Children of God cult (who openly bragged about years of child abuse, molestation, and full-out rape). Want to know who is allowed to go up for parole but isn’t even in the general population for fear he’ll be murdered? Canadian serial killer Paul Bernardo.
Through Nikki’s retellings of conversations she has had with these two very intelligent women over the course of over 20 years, she shows just how well the confused and brainwashed girls have grown into responsible adults (Leslie even has her Masters Degree and certifications in counselling). Leslie and Pat are in the general population of the prison and are fully functional in their everyday lives. There is no reason for either of them to still be condemned to rot behind bars for following orders they were brainwashed into believing were gospel.
To me their lives were no different then than any “normal” women to “in love” to see that she is being abused by a manipulative partner. It is truly heartbreaking.
Aside from that, I found the anecdotes of Nikki’s personal life to be humanizing in the way they connected to the lives of the women she has befriended. I found her pulls from other horrific crimes – from Abu Ghraib to the Moonie cult – to also be fascinating in determining how people react to different levels of crime. I have known who Charles Manson was for the majority of my life (as of this writing I am 23) but barely knew about Abu Ghraib or Jonestown in a real world context (everyone has seen parodies of the tortured prisoner photos or the phrase “Well so-and-so has drunk the Kool-Aid”). People are still furious about what happened to the Tate and LaBianca families, yet very few people even talk about the other aforementioned atrocities.
To cut myself off I will wrap up this review saying that this book is a very insightful and tastefully written profile on two women involved in one of the most famous crimes of the 20th century. Nikki Meredith is incredibly detailed in her research and her prose without being exploitative in any way or excusing the crimes of Leslie, Pat, Susan, Linda Tex, and Charlie. It is a modern day look at the crimes as written by someone with a clearly level head and as little bias as anyone who grew up in those days can have.
Nikki Meredith’s first complete book gets 5 / 5 stars for me.
Author: Nikki Meredith
Published: March 27th 2018
Publisher: Citadel Press
Synopsis: In the summer of 1969, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel carried out horrific acts of butchery on the orders of the charismatic cult leader Charles Manson. At their murder trial the following year, lead prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi described the two so-called Manson Women as “human monsters.” But to anyone who knew them growing up, they were bright, promising girls, seemingly incapable of such an unfathomable crime.
Award-winning journalist Nikki Meredith began visiting Van Houten and Krenwinkel in prison to discover how they had changed during their incarceration. The more Meredith got to know them, the more she was lured into a deeper dilemma: What compels “normal” people to do unspeakable things?
The author’s relationship with her subjects provides a chilling lens through which we gain insight into a particular kind of woman capable of a particular kind of brutality. Through their stories, Nikki Meredith takes readers on a dark journey into the very heart of evil.