I’m going to make this a quick review for a few reasons. The first is that this is obviously non-fiction and about Charles Manson. The second is that I was not fond of this book at all and, if I’m being entirely honestly here, I ended up skimming most of it.
Having had something of an obsession with Manson for many, many years now, I have read countless books on the Summer of ’69 as well as books about what factors made Manson who he was. Earlier this year I reviewed an ARC for Nikki Meredith’s The Manson Women and Me, which I absolutely adored. This time, Lis Wiehl’s book Hunting Charles Manson: The Search For Justice in the Days of Helter Skelter is bland and includes many things that I question.
The first red flag for me was the author stating in the Author’s Note that she is a prosecutor and reporter who believes in a Christian brand of justice. It seems like an irrelevant thing to bring up in a book about a cult who was fairly against organized religion that didn’t centre around Charlie himself. Not only that but several times throughout the book, some of the profanity is censored out and some of it isn’t, causing me to question what facts have been twisted for the sake of the story and the author’s personal opinions.
Next up is that she doesn’t automatically use the names of the victims in the murders on Cielo Drive (aka. The Tate Murders), instead saving them for the following chapter when the “survivor” in the guest house in brought into the mix. It felt disrespectful to me and most people my age probably don’t know what the victims looked like (other than Sharon Tate) so only using descriptors felt like an odd choice. Not only that, but when Wiehl does go into the life of William Garretson, she focuses a lot on his drug habits and his friendship with the immigrant groundskeepers of the property. In other words, there’s a lot of irrelevant information here.
I’m not going to say any more because, quite frankly, I’m really disappointed. This time period that helped spark the Satanic Panic while also doing so much politically is fascinating to me, but this author does not do a good job of getting her points across, instead choosing to rehash the facts in a way that feels censored and manipulated. Not to mention that unless readers are truly familiar with the members of the Family – meaning both their names and their “Family names” – it can be confused to remember who is who.
The only decent thing about this book is that it got me working on my cross-referencing and fact-checking skills as I often found myself looking at other sources to make sure the information was accurate (which, based on my knowledge, not all of it was).
If you want a good read about the cult, I highly recommend you read Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, The Manson Women and Me by Nikki Meredith, and Manson by Jeff Guinn.
Author: Lis Wiehl (with Caitlin Rother)
Published: June 5, 2018
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Synopsis: In the late summer of 1969, the nation was transfixed by a series of gruesome murders in the hills of Los Angeles. Newspapers and television programs detailed the brutal slayings of a beautiful actress–twenty six years old and eight months pregnant with her first child–as well as a hair stylist, an heiress, a businessman, and other victims. The City of Angels was plunged into a nightmare of fear and dread. In the weeks and months that followed, law enforcement faced intense pressure to solve crimes that seemed to have no connection.
Finally, after months of dead-ends, false leads, and near-misses, Charles Manson and members of his “family” were arrested. The bewildering trials that followed once again captured the nation and forever secured Manson as a byword for the evil that men do.
Drawing upon deep archival research and exclusive personal interviews–including unique access to Manson Family parole hearings–former federal prosecutor and Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl has written a propulsive, page-turning historical thriller of the crimes and manhunt that mesmerized the nation. And in the process, she reveals how the social and political context that gave rise to Manson is eerily similar to our own.