Killing for Company by Brian Masters

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Killing for Company by Brian Masters

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Category: True Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Megan Kenny
Reviewed by Megan Kenny
Summary: A sensitive, thoughtful portrayal of the man behind the headlines, Killing for Company manages to be insightful and thought provoking without sensationalising the grisly murders perpetrated by Dennis Nilsen. A must read for true crime fans but only those with a strong stomach.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: August 2017
Publisher: Arrow
ISBN: 978-1784759421

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Killing for Company is a detailed criminal study of Dennis Nilsen, unique in that it was produced with Nilsen's full cooperation and includes material from Nilsen's prison diaries. Covering Nilsen's early life, his career and subsequent murders, this is a detailed analysis of the man behind the murder and an attempt, on Masters' part, to understand what shaped Nilsen and what could have caused such apparently senseless violence.

Rather than being an exaggerated piece of true crime writing which relies on sensationalist crime scene photographs and lurid descriptions of grisly murder and mayhem, this is a perceptive attempt to explore the meaning behind Nilsen's behaviour. Masters also provides a detailed picture of the victims here and goes to great lengths to reinforce their humanity, rather than relegating them to bit players in Nilsen's ghastly tragedy, making Killing for Company an intelligent exploration of a macabrely gruesome case which shocked the nation, rather than a tawdry attempt at gaudy melodrama.

However, it must be said that Nilsen's descriptions of the murders are grisly and difficult to read and material from Nilsen's notebooks, including drawings of victims, may be unpalatable for some readers. Masters' obvious empathy for Nilsen, developed through a particularly unusual relationship may also be challenging, however I appreciated his obvious desire not to simply rely on labelling him as 'evil' or 'bad'. Instead, Masters' has attempted to understand, through a retrospective examination of Nilsen's life, the choices and events which led to the horrific murder of fifteen men.

My only criticism of Masters' assessment of Nilsen is that is appears to be more forgiving than even Nilsen's view of himself. Masters appears to be focused on providing, if not justification then at least explanation for Nilsen's actions, through his alcohol use and even through some confusing discussion of possession and demonology. It appears that he is unable to conceive that Nilsen, as psychologists have suggested, committed these acts because he enjoyed the power murder gave him and that the post offence rationalisations offered were designed to portray himself as a victim. I found Nilsen's comments about his victims and his desire for forgiveness from family members obscene and so cannot agree with Masters in his apparent sympathy. However, it must be emphasised that Masters has attempted to be as objective as possible in his evaluation of Nilsen and whilst the latter end of the book may be slightly convoluted, he has done an admirable job.

Killing for Company is insightful, unsettling and thought provoking. Masters has focused intently on Nilsen and his crimes but also explores the wider context in which these crimes took place. This includes the stigma faced by homosexual men, a potential motivating factor behind Nilsen's crimes but also a factor which allowed him to offend with impunity for as long as he did; Nilsen committed several attempted murders which were not reported or not followed through due to victim fears of reprisal for their sexuality. Whilst Killing for Company was written during the 1980's and is republished here with a new introduction, it remains a pertinent reminder that no one, not even serial murderers, exist in isolation and that such heinous crimes are enabled by wider social prejudices. Masters also focuses on Nilsen's trial, particularly the confusion experienced by the jury and wider public around the distinction between psychological and legal definitions and the impact this has on the legal system's ability to be effective in cases such as this. This focus ensures Masters' work is never one dimensional and elevates Killing for Company into a meticulous study of the dark intricacies of the human mind.

For those of you interested in thoughtful true crime, you could also try The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrere and Linda Coverdale (translator).

Buy Killing for Company by Brian Masters at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Killing for Company by Brian Masters at

Buy Killing for Company by Brian Masters at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Killing for Company by Brian Masters at


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