Tuesday 23 January 2018

Review: One of Your Own by Carol Ann Lee

Mainstream €16.31

DEVOID OF SYMPATHY: Murderer Myra Hindley dismissed the mother of one of her victims as 'Mrs Pain in the Neck'
DEVOID OF SYMPATHY: Murderer Myra Hindley dismissed the mother of one of her victims as 'Mrs Pain in the Neck'

Eilis O'Hanlon

Myra Hindley spent most of her life in jail, having been convicted in 1966, along with her lover Ian Brady, of the murder of three children.

She pleaded not guilty in court, continued to protest her innocence from prison and almost immediately upon being sentenced to life began her quest for freedom. It wasn't until 1987, more than 20 years after the original trial, that she finally owned up to the part she played in the abduction and murder of a total of five children.

Many of her most ardent supporters were shocked by this long-overdue admission. If they'd had the chance to read this book, they surely wouldn't have been so surprised. One Of Your Own is the searing portrait of a manipulative and calculating woman whose first and only thought was always for herself. Drawing on a range of sources including Hindley's own unpublished autobiography and hundreds of recently released prison files, it offers itself up as the definitive true story of a figure once dubbed "Britain's most hated woman".

Much of what sits on these pages makes for uncomfortable reading, not least the transcript of the tape recording Hindley and Brady made of 10-year-old Lesley Ann Downey begging for mercy before being killed. Some may criticise Carol Ann Lee for including such voyeuristic details, but that's what her book sets out to do -- not flinch in the face of evil. In that, One Of Your Own succeeds powerfully.

The real strength of the book comes in the second half when the author delves into Hindley's private world behind bars. What it exposes is a woman who never really confronted the enormity of what she'd done. On the one hand, feeling haunted by her earlier refusal to confess. On the other, referring to the mother of one victim as "Mrs Pain in the Neck" and claiming of another that she needed a "brain implant". As one of her supporters concedes: "For all Myra's intelligence that was the one thing that she wasn't able to grasp: that people grieve for years and years and had the right to feel they way they did." Equally alien to her was any sensitivity for how her prolonged bid for clemency extended and exacerbated their suffering. In the words of Danny Kilbride, brother of victim John Kilbride, "Life would definitely have been easier for my family if she'd have just accepted her punishment."

That, though, would have meant giving up the possibility of release. The victims' families were an irritant precisely because they stood between her and freedom. She died still not understanding why the enormity of her actions meant she could never be allowed out. That was understood from the start by Ian Brady. His crimes, he said, were the, "acts of a madman. I don't deserve any sympathy."

We'll probably never know exactly what went on in Hindley's mind, but this harrowing book is a good attempt to probe that dark place. That it is the work of an author whose best-known book is an acclaimed biography of Anne Frank is ironic indeed. From ultimate victim to ultimate villainess. Though maybe it's not so far. The book's epigraph comes from a concentration camp guard quoted by Holocaust survivor Primo Levi: "Here there is no why." Anyone reading this book to understand why a young woman would take part in the sexual torture and murder of children may only find more questions and mysteries. But the book is a sobering rejoinder to anyone who still regards Hindley's punishment as excessive.

Buy 'One of Your Own' from Eason

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