reviews Robert Cox’s A Compulsion to Kill

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We’ve just received our first review, that being of Robert Cox’s A Compulsion to Kill, and we’re happy to let Lorraine Cobcroft’s review speak for itself:

“Cox includes stories of ”the cannibal convict”, Alexander Pearce; sadistic sexual predator and baby-killer, Thomas Jeffrey; Charles Routley, who burnt one of his victims alive; Broughton and McAvoy, cannibal convicts; Rocky Whelan, who killed five men in just twenty-four days; and John Haley, who killed three people in fits of rage.

Robert Cox claims most of these stories have never been told before. Certainly they have not been related in such graphic detail nor with such impressive accuracy. Cox has clearly researched extensively and diligently and has uncovered a wealth of information about the lives and characters of the killers, as well as about their gruesome deeds.

This book has been described as ”a supremely dramatic page-turner in the true-crime genre”. I would not agree that it is either ”supremely dramatic” or ”a page-turner”. I found it to be almost text-book/thesis style, but certainly intriguing and insightful. Careful footnotes and a detailed bibliography evidence the extent of research carried out and give the reader confidence in the accuracy of the information. Where opinions, theories or suppositions are advanced, they are clearly documented as such.

A lover of stories from history―especially Australian history―I opened this book with high expectations. I was not disappointed. Cox exposes much interesting detail of life in early Australia, the treatment of convicts, and the effect of that treatment on the minds of some of our most notorious murderers. He delves into the investigative methods used by police and presents newspaper reports and witness statements substantially as originally written, enabling the reader to appreciate the language used at the time and the reporting conventions observed by various newspapers.

Cox holds nothing back when describing the methods used by cold-blooded killers and their butchering and eating of victims’ body parts. He covers hangings in grim detail. He presents a frighteningly accurate picture of life in an era when cruel and inhuman punishments were inflicted for relatively minor transgressions and persecution so hardened some men that they lost all respect for human life, if, indeed, these monsters ever possessed any. The stories are unapologetically grisly and horrifying, but this is history as it should be told. In the words of author Douglas Lockhart, it is told ‘…with the facts of a past savagery skilfully handled and accurately portrayed’.”

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