By Reason of Insanity
By Shane Stevens
Remember Caryl Chessman (a robber, rapist, and kidnapper, the last of which led to his execution in California’s gas chamber, and which added high octane fuel to the campaign to abolish capital punishment)? Shane Stevens uses Chessman as a touchpoint for possibly one of the most insanely bloody, vicious serial killer novels written, his 1979 demi-classic By Reason of Insanity. Rarely has a title so aptly encapsulated the content of a novel.
Thomas Bishop is a killing machine and Adam Kenton is his relentless pursuer. Bishop is a wily psychopath, tortured by his mother as child, now an irreconcilable woman-hater, who escapes from a mental institution, where he has resided since killing his mother and burning up her body at 10. He escapes at 25 and goes on a terrifying cross-country killing spree, waging a war against women. Adam Kenton is a journalist, a mad dog in his own right, demanding of himself and demanding justice for society. How they relate to each other and finally meet in the end provides the fast-paced forward motion of the book.
Bishop kills viciously, eviscerating his victims and wallowing in their blood. There’s much brutality described uncompromisingly, as well sex, and a large cast of characters—journalists, cops, politicians—all with their own complements of flaws, all human and common, and all with us today. What sets the novel apart is Stevens’ ability to plumb the psychological depths of Bishop’s demented mind until, in the end, you feel a bit of sympathy for the character, as evil as he is.
Recommended for those who like the serial killer genre and those interested in the abnormal mind, as well as those who see every human being in need of a bit of redemption from self-interest. On this score, you’ll find how Stevens’ weaves political corruption and Watergate paranoia into the story fascinating. w/c