I first heard of the Wests when the Appropriate Adult mini-series/movie came on cable here in the US. It had Dominic West and Emily Watson, so it was good. Therefore, when the eBook version of this book came up for sale, I brought it. After reading a mystery that used the Wests as a plot point, I decided to read this book.
The Wests, Fred and Rose, were murderers and rapists who targeted younger women and buried some of the victims in the yard of their house. One of the murdered victims was their eldest biological daughter, and it seems that they were abusive to all their children.
Sounes covered the story when it first came to light and this book looks not only into the case itself but also the background to both the Wests. There is, also, background on their victims – which included a relative of Kingsley Amis. With a few exceptions, most of the victims of the West faced similar living circumstance – abusive homes, issues with authority, and lower class.
One wonders if this had anything to do with how long the Wests were able to carry on their murders. Because while Sounes explains who the Wests were (he doesn’t really try to argue why they did what they did), he also details the failures one many levels of government systems and policing that contributed to the span of time the Wests were able to enjoy freedom.
Part of the reason has to do with how Britain at the time saw victims of rape. One of the victims of the couple survived and escape, she even pressed charges, but well, the result of the trial was maddening.
When Sounes covers the background of the Wests, he does so with a sense of detachment. He gives details of their past but does so with a lack of sympathy. This does not apply when he is discussing the victims, which, quite clearly and understandably, get his sympathy. His anger at the various institutions who should have done something is also palpable.
At times, it does almost feel like Sounes is making too much of the Wests’ various sexual fetishes. This seems particularly true about Rose, who because of her mental issues and change of behavior in the relationship seems to interest the author more than her husband. The sexual issues are not described in a titillating way, but there is almost a sense of well, since they are deviant in sexual taste than it is almost nature that they became murderers. I don’t think this feeling is intended and it could be just me. Though I did fine myself wondering why if the Wests had such a vast collection of sex toys as noted late in the book, it wasn’t mentioned earlier (at least in terms of acquiring such a collection).
The police who eventually collared the West do not get as much “page” time as the couple or even the victims. This actually works for the best because it does not become the story of the dogged cop who kept to her guns. Instead, the book functions in part as a memorial for all those victims of the couple.