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Reviews of Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman

Scoundrel

How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free

by Sarah Weinman

Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman X
Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2022, 464 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2023, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Maria Katsulos
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the author of The Real Lolita and editor of Unspeakable Acts, the astonishing story of a murderer who conned the people around him - including conservative thinker William F. Buckley - into helping set him free

In the 1960s, Edgar Smith, in prison and sentenced to death for the murder of teenager Victoria Zielinski, struck up a correspondence with William F. Buckley, the founder of National Review. Buckley, who refused to believe that a man who supported the neoconservative movement could have committed such a heinous crime, began to advocate not only for Smith's life to be spared but also for his sentence to be overturned.

So begins a bizarre and tragic tale of mid-century America. Sarah Weinman's Scoundrel leads us through the twists of fate and fortune that brought Smith to freedom, book deals, fame, and eventually to attempting murder again. In Smith, Weinman has uncovered a psychopath who slipped his way into public acclaim and acceptance before crashing down to earth once again.

From the people Smith deceived—Buckley, the book editor who published his work, friends from back home, and the women who loved him—to Americans who were willing to buy into his lies, Weinman explores who in our world is accorded innocence, and how the public becomes complicit in the stories we tell one another.

Scoundrel shows, with clear eyes and sympathy for all those who entered Smith's orbit, how and why he was able to manipulate, obfuscate, and make a mockery of both well-meaning people and the American criminal justice system. It tells a forgotten part of American history at the nexus of justice, prison reform, and civil rights, and exposes how one man's ill-conceived plan to set another man free came at the great expense of Edgar Smith's victims.

Introduction

EDGAR SMITH died on March 20, 2017, just over a month after his eighty-third birthday. He spent almost forty years in California's state penitentiary system, much of his last decade in health so poor that it was a surprise he survived so long. He was hard of hearing and barely able to walk more than a quarter mile, and even that short distance required a cane. A weak heart necessitating six bypass surgeries didn't kill him, either.

That Smith lived into his eighties is all the more remarkable because he was supposed to die nearly six decades earlier, executed by the state of New Jersey for the 1957 murder of fifteen-year-old Victoria Zielinski. At one time Smith was perhaps the most famous convict in America, counting William F. Buckley, Jr., founder of National Review and one of the key architects of the neoconservative movement, as his closest friend.

Scoundrel tells the true, almost too bizarre tale of a man saved from death row thanks to the years-long advocacy, through ...

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Reviews

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Of course, it is impossible to give a voice back to Edgar Smith's first victim, whose life he stole over six decades ago. But through the tireless work of Sarah Weinman, Scoundrel begins to resolve some of the issues that occur when those who inflict harm are given more attention than those they target. Rather than exploit the suffering of the women hurt by Smith (both of his wives, his mother, the woman he killed, the woman he tried to kill, the girlfriends sprinkled throughout his time in prison), Weinman delicately and deftly elevates their stories with a respect and care that is inspiring to see...continued

Full Review (750 words)

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(Reviewed by Maria Katsulos).

Media Reviews

Literary Hub
Weinman does an impeccable job with this wild story of murder, celebrity, politics, and the American ability to put unsavory characters on a pedestal.

Library Journal (starred review)
The book is a must-read for true crime fans...An immediately absorbing story of crime, manipulation, and influence.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In this mesmerizing account, Weinman does a masterly job resurrecting a stranger-than-fiction chapter in American criminal justice...This instant classic raises disturbing questions about gullibility even on the part of the very bright.

Kirkus Reviews
Weinman's book is not only a disturbing study in how 'brilliant people' and the institutions they serve can be successfully conned. It is also a reminder of how society has always used talent as a way to excuse male acts of aggression and violence against women. Wholly compelling reading from an author well versed in the true-crime genre.

Author Blurb Abbott Kahler, author (as Karen Abbott) of The Ghosts of Eden Park
Sarah Weinman has taken a minor footnote in American history—conservative icon William F. Buckley's strange friendship with (and advocacy for) a convicted murderer—and spun a breathtaking narrative about the criminal justice system, betrayal, and our culture of celebrity. Brilliantly reported and immensely readable, Scoundrel is a smart social commentary with all the twisted pleasures of a psychological thriller. I defy you to put it down.

Author Blurb Alexis Coe, New York Times bestselling author of You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington
In the court of public opinion, a woman who devotes herself to freeing an imprisoned murderer, only to regret unleashing a sociopath on society, is often judged a victim of her own desperation as much as a man's manipulation, but what about the eminent public intellectual who uses his platform to do the same thing? Sarah Weinman defies the genre of true crime in this extraordinary book about a cause célèbre gone terribly wrong.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

True Crime

Sarah Weinman's Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free sits squarely in one of today's hottest genres: true crime. Consumers of the genre may crave the rush that comes from real-life crime stories, especially ones that prove the cliché that truth can be stranger than fiction. In addition, people are fascinated by the depths and evils of the human mind, as evinced by the success of books based on accounts of true crimes, such as In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and all-time genre bestseller Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980.

True crime book covers

Although recently re-established ...

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Read-Alikes

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