What Emma Read: Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry


My usual format for What Emma Read’s doesn’t really work here with this being a book about real life people so i’m missing a few usual categories.

First impressions before reading the book

So basically Helter Skelter is written by Vincent Bugliosi, the main prosecutor in the Charles Manson murder case. I knew a little bit about Charles Manson before reading it, enough to know he had a cult like family and that he was a murderer. I love true crime documentaries, and wondered why I’d never really read any true crime novels. Apart from these few basic facts, I didn’t know anything else about the case, so I figured it was a good place to start. I also studied a lot of criminal law as part of my undergraduate degree, and I now have a morbid curiosity about criminals.

The book/plot

Okay, to start with, I didn’t realise how long this was. For a fiction comparison, it’s probably about the same length as the George R. R Martin ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’ novels. I read this on my kindle, and I will admit, I am a fast reader. At about 35% through Helter Skelter, my kindle averaged that I had about 12 hours left of reading time. I mostly read this in bits and pieces in breaks at work, or on plane rides, so it took me a really long time to finish it.

The plot is relatively easy to follow, as it follows the case in chronological order, from the police finding the bodies of the first murder, what is referred to as the ‘Tate murder’ due to actress Sharon Tate being involved. From there it follows the next murder of the LaBianca family, and the trials and tribulations that LAPD had trying to find the murderers. Vincent Bugliosi includes conversations he had with the police, with various members of the Family and other related persons to the crime/evidence. It really leaves no stone left unturned concerning the progression of the case. It’s also very frank, it doesn’t skimp on the prosecutorial struggles from weak cases, to the allure of Manson himself. For such a high profile case you would assume that a prosecutor would try to demonise a suspect as much as possible, but that isn’t really the case here. It’s more of a journey of trying to prove how the Family worked, that Manson was responsible for the murders because of the complete control that he held over his Family, and how that came about.

Would I recommend it?

Definitely. As I mentioned, I’m a big lover of true crime, and as a law graduate, I also love a good court case. This book gave me both! I love how detailed it is, but in all honestly, the detail is what makes this book so long. There’s also a lot of names, alternative names and nicknames of various family members, although I didn’t find it too confusing. The book follows a mostly chronological order, from facts to the goings on of the trial itself, so it’s pretty easy to follow.

If you’re looking for something a bit different and you’re prepared to invest a bit of time into it, this might be for you.


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