Review: Maniac by Harold Schechter

Title: Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer
Author: Harold Schechter
Publisher: Little A
Release Date: 09 March 2021
Genre: Literary, nonfiction

I was given a free copy of Maniac in exchange for an honest review.

Summary

In 1927, while the majority of the township of Bath, Michigan, was celebrating a new primary school—one of the most modern in the Midwest—Andrew P. Kehoe had other plans. The local farmer and school board treasurer was educated, respected, and an accommodating neighbor and friend. But behind his ordinary demeanor was a narcissistic sadist seething with rage, resentment, and paranoia. On May 18 he detonated a set of rigged explosives with the sole purpose of destroying the school and everyone in it. Thirty-eight children and six adults were murdered that morning, culminating in the deadliest school massacre in US history.

Maniac is Harold Schechter’s gripping, definitive, exhaustively researched chronicle of a town forced to comprehend unprecedented carnage, and the triggering of a “human time bomb” whose act of apocalyptic violence would foreshadow the terrors of the current age.

What I Think

When I think of mass shootings, Columbine, Virginia Tech, the Amish school shooter, Parkland, and so many countless shooters come to mind. It’s hard to believe that this phenomenon is nothing more than a tragic development of the recent century. We don’t think of mass shootings or bombings that could have occurred any earlier. What Harold Schechter shows us in his new book is that these acts of murder have happened earlier, and even became a precursor to the modern mass murder.

Maniac is different in the respect that it sets the reader up to what is going to happen later. We learn of Andrew Kehoe’s beginnings, why we moved to Bath, Michigan and his disgruntlement of the township’s taxation of the public in order to build and run its first school. His hatred for the school principal was so great that Kehoe accepted a position in the school board just to antagonize the man.

I thought the novel was masterfully written; Schechter gave us enough information about Kehoe, his life, and the township to understand what was going on without bogging us down with information that would have distracted us from the main story.

This is one of the few times where I would have liked to have known more about what was going on. Kehoe had burned down his farm before committing his crime at the school, effectively killing his wife and his livestock. I would’ve liked to known more about Nellie (his wife), her relationship with her husband, and whether or not his personality was the reason she was committed to an asylum only to be brought back and killed. It doesn’t detract from the story, but since it was something he did before going to the school, I would’ve liked to have known more.

All in all, the story was well paced. Schechter opens up with the modern mass shooter, brings us back in time to one of the earliest mass murderers, then brings it all together with how Kehoe’s actions are similar to those in modern times.

For those who’ve read Dave Cullen’s Columbine won’t want to miss this book coming in March 2021.

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