3 out of 4 stars
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I, A Squealer is a memoir originally written in 1967 by Richard Bruns. Bruns was a close acquaintance of Charles Schmid, the serial killer known as the Pied Piper of Tucson, and the memoir is an account of how Bruns discovered the truth about Schmid’s activities and eventually found the courage to go to the police and turn his friend in. While Bruns did not intend to publish the memoir, several fictional portrayals showing him in a bad light encouraged his daughters to convince him to tell his side of the story.
In order to maintain the authenticity of the memoir as originally written, Bruns had it proofread for errors but not edited. Consequently, there are occasional words and phrases which might seem dated, but they are easy enough to understand in context. I found this deliberate choice really helped me to get into the ‘feel’ of mid-sixties Tucson and the prevailing attitudes among the youth of the time, primary among which was the ethic of never ‘squealing’ on one’s mates.
It may well be incomprehensible to many readers of this book that Bruns didn’t turn Schmid into the authorities earlier. Schmid comes across like a Charles Manson, someone whose personality was so powerful he generated a type of force field around himself which drew others into his orbit. As one of those closest to him, Bruns seemed to have been both terrified of and hypnotised by Schmid. Combined with his conditioning not to ‘squeal’ on his mate, he stayed silent far longer than many would find conscionable.
This was an absolutely fascinating insight into the mind and daily life of a serial killer. The only book I can compare it to is Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me, her account of discovering her personable friend was none other than infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. Bruns’ emotions run a similar gamut to those Rule described; shock, disbelief, denial and a sense of misplaced guilt - both wondered if they should have noticed something sooner, should have said something earlier.
Bruns was very young when he wrote the original memoir and there are some gaps in the narrative. An appendix at the end of the book, which includes an interview with Bruns at the time of final publication, fills in some of these intriguing gaps and should not be overlooked.
Despite the book having professionally proofread, I still found a small handful of spelling errors and incorrect words, which was disappointing. Although I understand the decision to keep faithfully to the original memoirs, I do think the book would have been improved with a slightly more thorough editing and revision by Bruns to fill in some of the more obvious gaps. Nevertheless, this is a fascinating read from a point of view very few people can legitimately claim; that of close acquaintance with a serial killer. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in the true crime genre and give it a rating of three out of four stars.
I, a Squealer
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