Cover Image: Maniac

Maniac

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It would be hard to say I enjoyed this book, since it's in regards to what might be one of the earliest instances of a school massacre. That said, there were a lot of things about it that I appreciated, first and foremost of which being that Schechter made the very timely connection of a man bombing a school to all the "lone wolf" bombers we've seen over the last few decades. The subject of the book, Mr. Kehoe, was a man who was so angry about having to pay his taxes for a school in which he had no children, he bombed the place and killed 45 students, after murdering his wife, and then blew himself up in what also might have been the first instance of a car bomb. Linking such instances to the likes of Timothy McVeigh felt very appropriate and accurate. He also brought up what feels like the modern phenomena of having so many major events going on at once that we can't process them all, jumping from story to story to story and feeling like we and the media never give any tragedy the time and introspection they deserve. It turns out that's a story as old as time, or at least as old as the turn of the last century.

That being said, despite bringing up Charles Lindberg (as his transatlantic flight was the story that knocked the Bath School Bombing out of the papers), and the Ku Klux Klan, Schechter fails to ever mention the fact that Lindberg himself was a white supremacist. He also uses a goodly amount of ableist language - and while I'm willing to excuse the very title of the book because it was pulling directly from headlines of the time, which is a major part of the book's narrative, using terms like "insane" outside of discussing the legal qualifiers of what sort of person is mentally fit or unfit to stand trial feels irresponsible at worst and ignorant at best.

The major takeaway is that I wish this book had been longer, honestly, and tied together more of the threads between the Klan, white supremacy, the type of person that would bomb a school because of taxes, the media, and the real purpose of the insanity defense, and while the actually narrative here is a story well-told, there are a lot of threads left dangling at the end.
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Maniac is the latest from prolific true crime writer, Harold Schechter. It tells the oft-forgotten story of the 1927 massacre at the consolidated school of Bath, MI and its perpetrator, Andrew Kehoe. The book explores the psychology behind why such a heinously violent crime gets skipped over in the pantheon of American killers, but struggles in validating why this story is important and singular enough to receive the historical treatment it does here. Schechter’s writing is economical and this won’t take too long for a casual reader to get through, which makes some of the more extraneous vignettes more forgivable (why is so much space dedicated to Lindbergh?). Fans of Schechter and true crime will find much to like here with expected hallmarks of the genre detailing the more gruesome aspects of the school massacre, but readers expecting a deeper psychological examination of a “maniac” aren’t going to find it here.
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Harold Schechter's fascinating look into the worst school "disaster" (read: violence against school children) in history reads like a thriller - extremely horrific but kept pulling me in! I'll be looking for more books by Mr. Schechter.
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Serial Killer.  A term that brings to mind such 'luminaries' as Bundy, Gacy, Shipman etc.  However, this book brought home a much older serial killer, nay, mass murderer, a vicious man called Andrew P. Kehoe.  This factual book takes you through the build up to a horrific event in which 38 children and six adults passed.  I found this book to be really interesting as it was compiled with news from the time, which provides a unique insight into how people saw the build-up and the incident itself.  Andrew ain't a nice man.  This is recommended for those who enjoy reading true crime, finding out about the darker side of life and, as this is a 'lesser known' incident, all the more interesting for it.
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Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer by Harold Schechter is a highly recommended account of a horrendous historical crime.

In 1927 one of the worst mass murders in history occurred in Bath Michigan. On May 18th Andrew P. Kehoe set off a series of planned explosions at the Bath Consolidated School that killed 38 children and 6 adults. He also killed his wife, horses, and set fire to his farm. Then Kehoe loaded his truck with shrapnel and explosives and drove to the school. He called the school superintendent over to his truck and then blew up his truck, killing both of them while the shrapnel caused even more injuries to bystanders. It was clear in hindsight at the inquest, that Kehoe was an angry man. He was especially angry about the new property taxes levied to build the school.

Kehoe was a local farmer and the school board treasurer. He was often called in to look at mechanical problems, so he had access to the school. He had purchased a huge quantity of explosives, dynamite and Pyrotol, to be used in his explosions. At the school he set the clock on his device to explode at 9:45 AM, when the school would be full of children. Shockingly, it was discovered that only part of his explosives actually exploded causing the north wing of the school to collapse rather than the entire building.

Schechter does an excellent job setting the historical context of this account of one of the deadliest school massacres in U.S. history. For example, the explosion happened on the same day Charles Lindbergh took off in The Spirit of St. Louis. He also looks into the background of Kehoe, who was born on February 1, 1872. As the first son following six daughters, he was expected to excel. There were several early incidences that point to early indications of his mental state. Although there isn't much information about his life, Schechter presents what he uncovers leading up to the madness that lead to his abominable actions. This is a book that is sure to attract true crime readers.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Little A via Netgalley.
After publication the review will be posted on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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While this is so well written, the subject matter is so disturbing. I have read quite a few of Harold Schechter’s books, and this is as interesting as those I’ve read. All I kept thinking, is “What is wrong with our country, to continually create murderers, like Kehoe, the main subject of the book”. The Bath school bombing is horrible, happening at the same time the Anti-Semite Lindbergh is flying around the world. It is all a part of America’s past, the hideous all too common, lately. . What is it that creates these murderous people? Thank you to NetGalley and Little A publishing for the egalley.
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The book begins with a slow buildup leading up to the infamous ‘diabolical campaign of destruction’ of 1927 in the small town of Bath, Michigan. Lots of background info on the man who would become the monster. Perhaps a little too much. Around 40%, the lead-up pieces fall into place and the story kicks into high gear.

My first thought was that Andrew Kehoe was given way too much authority in the community. He held so many offices with little or no checks and balances. Though some people challenged him, mostly they shrugged off the red flags of his diabolical behavior, paranoia and stockpiling of explosives. In the end, so many children and teachers lost their lives needlessly. A small consolation was that one one of his larger bombs (504 pounds!) failed to detonate reducing the death toll. What a monster. 

The horrific event would come to be called the greatest mass murder of children in American history. I loved the wrap-up epilogue. It was the cherry on top and brought tears to my eyes.
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Non-fiction is not something that I read often, but every now and again I find that I enjoy learning a bit more about the past than I did before. This time around I requested an ARC on Netgalley for Maniac by Harold Schechter. A piece of true crime about the first mass school bombing in the US: the 1927 Bath school disaster.

Somehow true crime is an area that many people are interested in, however cruel it sometimes is. This is no different for me. I’d never heard of the Bath School Disaster before, but I was interested to find out what happened, and left shocked when I figured it out. Especially the theories behind the mass murder and the predictive nature of the situation for the future left me flabbergasted.

Schechter describes the story from its very beginning, starting off even with the murderer’s family situation a while before he was born. Even though this did paint a very complete picture of the circumstances, I did sometimes feel that too many details that had nothing to do with the main story were included. The Lindbergh story that was intertwined with the rest to give an impression as to why the Bath murder story didn’t quite make the headlines was one example of that. Also, there were so many names that were not all that relevant to the story. I counted four people named Francis, by the way. All of whom died rather horribly at one point or another…

And I’m not sure if this is very horrible for me to say, but I honestly wish there would have been images to support the story. Maybe not throughout the writing, since not everyone might want to see, but maybe at the end? I found myself Googling images of different situations throughout the book just to get a better picture of what was going on. Even though the disaster happened almost 100 years ago, there were many photos to support the story online.
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Thank you so much to @netgalley for the e-ARC of Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer by Harold Schechter! I read Hell’s Princess by him last year (about Belle Gunness) and found it fascinating to learn about a true crime story I barely knew. This was the same! I had heard of the Bath School Disaster vaguely, but had no idea of the story or the horror that one man unleashed. It was interesting, because Schechter suggests the reason it is not widely known is that cases reflecting the fears of the era are pushed to the front, such as Manson and the feats around the hippie culture. At the time of the Bath School disaster, mass killings were not common or a fear of the culture in the way they are now.

I found this interesting, a quick read, and, while heartbreaking, well researched and written. It will be published March 9, 2021 - if you like historical true crime check it out.

Also if you are interested in historical true crime - the podcasts Tenfold More Wicked @tenfoldmorewicked by @exactlyright and Crimes of the Centuries  @centuriespod by @obsessednetwork are amazing! Well researched, well narrated and so interesting. Do you have more? Share!!!

#maniac #haroldschechter #netgalley #historicaltruecrime #truecrime #bookstagram
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An interesting book in which I learned about an event I hadn't heard of before. This felt like a brief synopsis of the story so while it was interesting, it seemed a bit short. I would have liked to have learned more about the people involved.
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"Harold Schechter, Amazon Charts bestselling author of Hell's Princess, unearths a nearly forgotten true crime of obsession and revenge, and one of the first - and worst - mass murders in American history.

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."

I love that America's thirst for true crime is going back to all these older cases that lend such insight in the present day.
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I found this one difficult to connect with. It wasn't an easy book to read and I found myself avoiding picking it up so ultimately it's a DNF, sorry.
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Maniac tells us the story of Andrew Kehoe and how he came to be one of the first mass murderer in the United States.

I thought it was an interesting book with an intersting topic. We have several books about modern mass killings, but not that many when it comes to 19th and 20th century mass murders.

This book was quite detailed, which is something I enjoyed. We get to read about the people around Kehoe, about the school history, what the kids were doing right before the explosions, etc. It was more like a fiction than a historical recount.

That fictional aspect bothered me a little though. It blurred the line a bit with the real facts for me. How real were the conversations we get to read in the book ? How accurate is the thinking of everyone, the details of their lives ? I believe the author did a lot of research before writing this, but as I didn't read his sources, I'm not sure what was romancized for the reader's sake and what was not.

I also got lost a little in the book as we get many POVs. We get Kehoe's family, his neighbours, teachers, etc. At some point we even have Lindbergh chapters ?? I hope this is because some sources were their journals !

Unrelated to the writing, I would have enjoyed some illustration. Photography was already a thing in 1927, and I'm sure such a big event has been documented by local and national press. It would have lessened the "I'm reading fiction" effect.

Overall, it was an interesting and informative read, but I wished it had felt more like the historical tale it is rather than a novel.
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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for this book in exchange for honest review. I was excited to read this mainly because I have heard the author writes true crime well, and I am a true crime fan. 
However, I was disappointed. This felt more like the results of a well compiled google search and didn’t provide any insight or new information. I was disappointed that the names of the victims were not extensively included in the book either. That seems like crucial information and a great way to honor the victims. 
Overall, I have to say I have listed to true crime podcasts that did a better job of recounting the information. 
On a positive note, I will say I felt the writing style was great and flowed well, I just wish the content itself had been presented with some deeper analysis and research
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I found this book interesting because the events outlined are not well known outside the local area where they happened.  I really wanted to like this book better, but I found it to be rather disjointed.  There was a ton of building up information, then the chapter about Lindbergh seemed unnecessary and then the part about the actual crime seemed rushed.  Unfortunately, I didn't really connect well with this book.
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I was born and raised in Michigan, and attended Michigan State University, 7 miles south of Bath Township. I had never heard of the Bath School disaster (better called a massacre) until a Chicago columnist recently wrote about it. Twenty children and six adults were shot to death at Sandy Hook; thirty-eight children and six adults were blown to pieces when a vengeful local farmer detonated hundreds of pounds of explosives carefully disposed inside the Bath consolidated school in 1927. What happened and why doesn’t anyone know about it? Harold Schechter’s book Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer (New York: Little A, 2021) intends to tell us, with somewhat mixed success.
In an odd first chapter, Schechter provides a capsule introduction to the region of central Michigan that is now in Clinton County. In breathless tabloid prose (unfortunately, a tone he sustains throughout), he recounts some early inter-tribe indigenous conflicts liberally larded with terms like “bloody,” “butchery,” “slaughter,” “superstitious awe,” and “primitive fears.” Is he suggesting the Bath School Massacre grew out of some kind of cursed land, not to mention the “savage” stereotype he uncomfortably approaches? It’s twenty-some pages before we meet even the ancestral Kehoes, refugees from the Irish potato famine, who ultimately produce Andrew Kehoe in 1872, the main actor of this nightmare. 
Andrew Kehoe was smart, hard-working, clever about mechanics and engineering. His mother died when he was a teenager. He drifted and worked in various places, as a dairyman in my hometown for a time, and as a lineman in Iowa. Somewhere along the way, though the evidence is sparse, he apparently sustained a “severe fall” that reportedly left him “semi-conscious” for weeks. By 1910, at nearly 40, he was back home with his father, who had remarried a much younger woman. At that time, gasoline-powered stoves (“Have your husband’s warm breakfast on the table in half an hour!”) had become popular – and Schechter recites numerous news accounts of deadly explosions caused by these stoves. Kehoe’s stepmother lights the stove one morning and as Kehoe looks on, it blows up, spraying her with flames. It occurs to him to throw water on her, which only spreads the fuel and fire. She dies a horrific death. Schechter doomily announces that “only later, when the world learned exactly what [he] was capable of, did rumors spread…” that maybe he had rigged the stove on purpose. But this idea ends here.
The following year, Kehoe marries the niece of a prominent and wealthy local farmer. Trouble starts with the neighbors: he angrily chases off the priest collecting money for a new church building; he breaks off relations with a neighbor over a sale of cattle who die due to Kehoe’s own negligence. The rich uncle dies; Kehoe takes out a mortgage to buy his farm. He manages to fight with the buyer of his own farm over a pile of firewood. This is the man that Schechter describes on p. 8 as “a respected citizen, admired by his neighbors”? Well, when they move to the new farm, his wife’s established friends and relatives welcome them. He is handy and helps people fix things. But there’s an arrogance about him: he wears a three-piece suit to plow his fields, and chides people who lose at cards or who didn’t go to college like he did. And the animal abuse is appalling: he beats a horse to death, he shoots a neighbor’s lost dog for coming on his property, and he seems to have killed his stepsister’s pet cat.
Enter the local school superintendent. A new consolidated school is to be built; the childless Kehoe bitterly resents paying any tax to fund it. He wangles his way onto the school board where he fights every expenditure, he “forgets” to deliver the superintendent’s paychecks and halves his vacation time. His mechanical skills lead him to take over maintenance of the school building, with free run of it 24/7. He falls badly behind on his mortgage. The school board is sick of him; he runs for township clerk – and loses. In the fall of 1926, he drives down to Jackson, MI  and buys 500 pounds of pyrotol, a war-surplus explosive used to clear rocks and stumps in fields. The dealer thought nothing of it, assuming it was for normal purposes… but, as Schechter duly warns us: “But he was wrong.”
Seven months later, on the last day of school, Kehoe murders his wife and sets his farm on fire, having hobbled his horses with wire to be sure they cannot escape. At 8:45 AM, the carefully placed and wired explosives go off, collapsing half the building on schoolchildren and teachers. As hysterical parents and frantic first responders flock to the carnage, Kehoe pulls up in his truck. He beckons over the superintendent – and detonates his explosives-and-shrapnel-packed truck. Schechter enjoys telling us about the skein of intestine wrapped around the truck’s steering wheel – and the gawker who snips off a piece of it as a souvenir. Within days, postcards are being sold depicting the rows of children’s bodies, and Mrs. Kehoe’s charred corpse. And the story is almost completely forgotten in the news.
Why? Because two days later, Charles Lindbergh has taxied off for his flight to Paris, and the world goes mad for Lindy. Schechter devotes many pages to Lindbergh’s history and flight, and it feels like padding. This book clocks out at over 300 pages, but the line spacing is generous, the page margins wide, and blank pages intersperse every chapter. This is frankly a much slighter book than it looks. There are lengthy litanies of dozens of sensational murders of the era having nothing to do with Michigan, Andrew Kehoe, psychology, or much else except that there were lots of murders in the papers those days (and these, of course). But this is what Harold Schechter does: write true-crime books. This one feels like an assemblage of clips from newspapers.com, collected by a dutiful research assistant, and assembled by Schechter. He adds little to these stitched-together snippets beyond his heavy-breathing “if only they had known,” “one unstable man’s implacable hatred,” and other such melodramatic commentary. He tries to make a case for crimes that capture the imagination and memory of a society because of what it fears most: Charles Manson as the drug-crazed hippy of the 60s, poisonings in an era when patent medicines were freely sold and toxins of all kinds dumped into waterways, and mass murders post 9/11. He doesn’t really succeed in fitting the Bath School Massacre into any such explanation: this was one damaged, furious, violent man who killed many dozens of innocents, yet was functional enough to be considered a “respected citizen” by some. It remains a horrifying puzzle, and other than the value of Schechter reminding us of this one terrible event that should be honored and remembered, Maniac does not do very much to explain it, or enlighten us. 
For deep "true crime" collections only.
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Deeply researched, timely content. Schechter's apparent thesis is that the Bath massacre was the work of one of the very first American mass murderers, as well as the first mass murder on a school campus. He succeeds on both points. The Bath story, which is relatively short and straightforward, is told with cinematic clarity: a disturbed man who believes he is the victim in pretty much every situation, gathers a ridiculous amount of explosives and takes revenge on an education official by blowing up dozens of schoolchildren, various townspeople, and himself.  It's a vast tragedy, but one that exists for us in sepia tones. Schechter puts the tragedy in context, against the drama of Charles Lindbergh's historic transatlantic flight, and the optimistic 1920s. He further contrasts the Bath tragedy with murders that held sway in the media far longer than the few days or so that the Bath tragedy dominated. Bath quickly sank into history and nearly disappeared. Schlechter neatly tells us why, but you'll need to read for yourself to find out. The latter part of the book is devoted to Bath's place as the first school-based mass killing, with in-depth descriptions of the school massacres of the last 50 years for which Bath was the single, tragic precursor. An enlightening read with a sobering subject.
Tiny caveat: I wish there had been historical photos of Bath in the book.
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I learned a little bit more about an incident I heard about from reading other mass murder books. However, the different stories and anecdotes did not flow well together and the book just kind of ends without having a clear resolution. Thank goodness this is not the type of book that needs that but it just left me a little confused.

Just an eh, kind of read for me. Recommended if you like true crime nonfiction.

Thanks to Netgalley, Harold Schecter, and Little A for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Available: 3/9/21
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I can't believe I had no idea about this case. In 1927, a new and modern (for it's time) primary school had opened in Bath, Michigan. Andrew P. Kehoe whom was the school board treasurer, and local farmer. He was an educated, respectable neighbor and friend! But underneath that act, he was a  narcissistic sadist, filled with rage and paranoia and was wanting revenge. On May 18, he detonated explosives in the school, killing 38 children and 6 adults. That was the deadliest school massacre in US history! 

You will read about Andrew Kehoes life, and how although growing up in a well to do family life, there was cruelty from the beginning with his actions!  It was heartbroking reading about the aftermath. The author did a great amount of research with this story, and I'd definitely be interested in reading more of his work! 


Thank you netgalley and publisher for this digital copy!
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This is a fairly accomplished review of an early disturbing case of mass murder involving the blowing up in 1927 of a primary school in Bath, Michigan, by a local man with an unwarranted chip on his shoulder. The facts of the case are extraordinary and highly disturbing,  and the mass murderer, Andrew P. Kehoe, an unfortunately resourceful but extremely bitter man was that very rare creature, a highly organised sociopath. However, for me this book overstayed its welcome, I was not particularly interested in the historical background of Midwest America in the 1920s, it just seemed like padding... Also the fact that the book mainly had to use written sources such as newspaper articles and memoirs robbed it of immediacy and made it seem a little hollow.

An interesting book, but one that was perhaps a little overlong.
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