I was two years out of law school in 1969, working in the governor's office in Sacramento. In Northern California we were still living in fear over another monster, the Zodiac Killer -- another vicious apparently 'random' killer who was never identified. Unlike the Zodiac, Manson and his family were captured -- which made his case all that much more interesting, garnering the attention of almost everyone for months on end. I followed it closely -- or thought I did. I read Bugliosi's book soon after it came out and remember loving it, loving access to the details about the "family" he provided that I hadn't known before.
How time changes things. What I loved about the book in the 1970's were the personal elements, biographical details about the "family's" lives, who they were, how they got caught up in the insanity, much of which hadn't been widely available at the time.
Now, listening to Scott Brick's elegant, almost respectful, narration, I see something entirely different. Now -- in light of another judicial fiasco out of Los Angeles -- what captures my attention was the horrendous incompetence of the Los Angeles judicial system.
Now, all I can do is compare the Manson case to the O.J. Simpson case, in which (if you can believe this) bad as it was, the LAPD comes off looking pretty good as compared to Manson. In Manson, there were so much mismanagement, elemental mistakes, goofs and just plain incompetence of the LAPD, it's a wonder any of them were convicted of anything.
There's no question in my mind that if Manson went to trial today in LA, on the evidence available back then, he would never be convicted. Juries back then were, I think, more rational, more justice-based, than they are today. Today, I think the defense would be able to capitalize on the unbelievable errors, loose ends, mishandling of the evidence, incompetence in handling the evidence -- from everyone, the medical examiner, the police, and the detectives. Today, a jury would focus in on all those errors and mistakes. Back then, the jury focused on the big picture. Did these people do what they were alleged to have done? In short, they kept the defendants on trial. They didn't feel the need to try the LAPD instead.
Much credit goes to Vince Bugliosi himself, of course. His oft-repeated frustration with the total lack of trial support he was getting makes for fascinating reading. Working 14 hour days, being forced into doing much of the leg work himself after the LAPD failed or refused to do it -- or just lost it, after they did do it -- you get a real feel for the seat-of-the-pants lawyering that was possible back then. The world has changed. That wouldn't work anymore -- and on the whole, life in the US is the poorer and more dangerous for it.
All in all, "Helter Skelter" is a fascinating look at a monumental trial that still plays ranks high in legal mythology. It's a key part of American cultural history that's well worth reading, rereading or listening to.
As someone who remembers the murders and the circus that followed, I was not sure that I would be able to sit through such a lengthy rendition of the story. When I saw that Scott Brick was the narrator, I knew it would be a breeze. His style and pace are brilliant. Even when I listen at double-speed on my iPhone, I can grasp every syllable, and in this book, every syllable is relevant.
Written during the time-period in which the crimes took place there is not a lot of time wasted setting up the ambiance of the time, which was quite unique. I think that this still comes across thirty-odd years later.
Never a fan of Vincent Bugliosi, finding him arrogant in most interviews I have seen, I have now learned to appreciate how much work and skill went into getting convictions in an impossible case. This is especially impressive when you realize the way the Tate investigators botched the case from the start.
The writers weave each thread into a tapestry that captures this dreadful part of history. I am so glad Audible made the unabridged version available.
This is one of those books that just grabs you and won't let you go. I've read it at least 3 times in the last 30 years and now I can just listen to it while I waste my life stuck on the freeway. And to have Scott Brick do the narration is awesome. He really keeps it alive, although the book itself is just plain fascinating. I've been holding out for the unabridged version and here it is. 10 stars!
I must say that as an avid book reader, I was doubtful whether I could ever get used to audio books. But I have certainly done so. As someone who travels a lot as part of my job, listening to books in the car has made the trips so much more enjoyable - and this is an engrossing read! Helter Skelter is not the type of book I usually read, but I do vividly recall the Sharon Tate/LaBianca murders and thought it would be interesting - and how! Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry have done an excellent work on the entire tale from the awful murders to the final sentencing and beyond. Yes, it is a terrible thing which happened and the book doesn't flinch from that but overall one is left with a gripping and well-researched story which brings all the individuals involved to life.
By contrast with hardcopy books which one reads for oneself, the role of the Narrator is so vital in making an audio book enjoyable or not. Scott Brick does a masterful job at this. His reading speed is just right as is his tone and inflection. I would certainly look for books narrated by Mr Brick again. His reading is pivotal to the accessibility and overall enjoyment of this book. Five stars all around.
An avid reader, crocheter and knitter.
First read the book in the 70's when I was very young and the attraction was the Hollywood angle since I had just seen Sharon Tate in Valley of the Dolls. This re-read as an older woman gave chills when I understood the dark world of those lost creatures of the era. That I actually felt sorry for one of the women that recently died of cancer makes me realize how much I had forgotten about this story. Bugliosi gives very pertinent and detailed biographical accounts that help to understand what may have contributed to the moral disintegration of the murderers. But it's scary stuff when you think that there may be some more cults out there breeding this disregard for society. Fascinating read.
Even though it's a story and outcome I thought I was totally aware of, the act of proving Charles Manson guilty proved to be an all-encompassing story; a story that Scot Brick's unparalleled narration, turned it into a masterpiece. As Scott Brick is my favorite male narrator*, it took me little more than 15 minutes to go from reading the email-announcement of Scott Brick's Reading of Helter Skelter, to the act of purchasing and downloading it.. 30 minutes later I began listening to chapter 1 of part one and could do little more than to listen until I reached the story's conclusion. I reacted so quickly because I believe Scott Brick to be the industry's #1 male narrator.
I have read and reread this book many times, and have always been horrified, saddened, but have always had to read from end to end. Scott Brick's narration is clear, crisp, and well suited for the material. Excellent to have it finally on audio.
I thought this book might be old rehash. It was NOT. A total detailed factual account from A to Z on the case. Murders, investigation, trial and background. Few books have you sitting on the edge of your seat. This would be a great around the camp fire scary read. One of my best audible purchases I've made. Total addiction thru out the story. Can't wait to re listen cause you will no doubt want to go thru this at least twice. I don't know what was more shocking... the murders or the terribly botched up investigation that followed. So many hard clues, and so many people wanted to talk, but the detectives just did not care to listen. Shocking that this case was ever solved by such botched investigation.
The narrator's treatment of the material just adds to the creepiness of this already excellent work. Seriously, the intensity of the narrator's voice had me turn the lights back on when I listened to the first segment describing the grisly events ... If you're not a squeamish person and can enjoy the dark and macabre from time to time, this is a must have.
Long commute = Lots of time for audiobooks
Being of a slightly younger generation, I wasn't all that familiar with the Manson murders before I listened to this audiobook. I knew who Charles Manson was by reputation, of course, but otherwise came in fairly ignorant of the exact nature of his crimes and their impact on society. So if you already know a lot about the case, I suspect this review won't help you decide whether you want to give this book a try.
I tend to love nonfiction that gives the reader/listener insight into the author - particularly when the book is not an autobiography. Something about understanding the author's process of writing the book or connection to the work compels me more than if I feel the author is just trying to provide an accurate blow-by-blow description of an event. My reviews of Ron Chernow's biographies of Washington and Hamilton speak to this skill as well, in that Chernow inserts himself just enough into the narrative that you remember that someone with an opinion is there, someone who you can imagine pouring over the details to piece together this story.
Vincent Bugliosi brings this story to life in much the same way, but the experience is heightened by the author's unique role in the Manson case as the lead prosecutor. Thus, this is not just a rehashing of a crime scene - though Bugliosi does recreate the crimes in a way I found powerful and moving. Rather, this story is one only Bugliosi could have told. He describes his thought processes in detail as he tries to show us the challenge facing him in making a case against Manson that would convince a jury to not only put Manson away for life, but hand down a death sentence. I loved, loved, loved this perspective.
I'm not a lawyer, but I've edited the writing of many a lawyer, and I know how difficult it is for many lawyers to explain legal concepts, particularly details of court proceedings, in plain language - without boring the reader to death. Bugliosi is particularly skilled at making the reader understand why various legal details were both important and interesting.
Scott Brick is always good, and he's exactly the perfect narrator for this book. His stern voice is expressive without being emotional, which strikes the perfect tone for such a harrowing story.
Yes, the book is long. But I feel like you can probably tell if you're the sort of person who is going to enjoy a 27 hour story about the details of a grizzly, historically significant murder trial. You might not be, and that's okay. I would urge you though, if you're intrigued but unsure about whether the book can hold your attention that long, to give it a try anyway. You might zone out for parts of it, but I can promise there will be many, many sections you'll find so fascinating you won't want to stop listening.