The Vienna Woods Killer: A Writer's Double Life by John Leake

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The Vienna Woods Killer: A Writer's Double Life by John Leake

Category: True Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A very readable look at the life and crimes of Jack Unterweger - the transatlantic serial killer. It could have been dry and academic but it reads like a good crime novel. Recommended
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: July 2008
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 978-1847080455

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Four women disappeared from Vienna's red-light district in 1991. Much, much later their bodies were found in the Vienna Woods. It's the type of story which the media latches onto, feeding the fears of all women in the area. One freelance journalist, Jack Unterweger, distinguished himself when he carried out a series of interviews with Vienna's prostitutes and the Chief of Police. The investigation lasted for many months and the police were no nearer finding the killer, until a retired police officer made what seemed like a far-fetched suggestion. Could the Vienna Woods killer be Jack Unterweger?

The suggestion wasn't as far-fetched as it had seemed at first. Sixteen years before, Jack Unterweger had murdered a woman and he'd spent most of the intervening period in prison. Whilst there he discovered literature and the transformation was nothing short of miraculous. His children's stories were read on radio and his novel Purgatory was made into a film. Leading figures in the Austrian establishment campaigned for his release, which came about in 1990 after fourteen years in prison.

John Leake lived in Vienna for eight years and spent four years studying the life and crimes of Jack Unterweger and his book is a very readable look at Unterweger's early life, the crimes he committed and the investigation into the deaths. Some of the murders were committed in California and one in the Czech Republic and Unterweger remains the only known example of a transatlantic serial killer. Leake's research is meticulous and he had access to Unterweger's diaries and to people who knew him. This could have resulted in a very dry, academic book, but it reads more like a good crime novel and it's not until you look at the notes and list of sources that you realise that this is all dreadful fact.

The murders were gruesome, but Leake handles the necessary descriptions with sensitivity. There's nothing there which is going to keep the most sensitive souls awake at night, but he does bring home the precarious lives which the prostitutes led and how a serial killer strikes at the population as a whole. I lived in the middle of the area terrorised by the Yorkshire Ripper between 1975 and 1980 and the book brought back a lot of memories - few of them welcome.

What fascinated me was Unterweger himself. The FBI described him as a 'uniquely high-functioning psychopath' and it's easy to see how he fooled the police and those closest to him for a long time - but easy too to see the streak of sadism which was always close to the surface. Leake neatly contrasts his character with Geiger - the investigator - and shows the stresses on him and his family in the course of such a high- profile investigation.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

If you are a fan of book about true crime then you will almost certainly enjoy Sebastian Junger's A Death in Belmont. If murders of prostitutes interest you then you might like to have a look at Jack of Jumps by David Seabrook although Bookbag was somewhat annoyed by the accusations levelled against a living person who may well not be in a position to defend himself.

Buy The Vienna Woods Killer: A Writer's Double Life by John Leake at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Vienna Woods Killer: A Writer's Double Life by John Leake at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Vienna Woods Killer: A Writer's Double Life by John Leake at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Vienna Woods Killer: A Writer's Double Life by John Leake at Amazon.com.


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