I’m sure I’ve talked before about how my husband thinks I am extremely macabre what with my reading of murder books all the time… I can’t help myself. I love history and there is also something about looking at the horror of a murderer and what makes them tick. It is like standing close to a monster, but not getting eaten. That is why I enjoy these sorts of books. The Killer of Little Shepherds is no exception.
The book follows Joseph Vacher as he travels the French country side in the 1890s. After attacking his ‘fiance’, shooting her, and attempting to commit suicide, he was institutionalized. Unfortunately, that didn’t take and when the psychologist pronounced him ‘cured’ Vacher was let loose to lead a nomadic existence of murder and deprivation. Vacher killed indiscriminately, at times only barely escaping capture. He savaged the bodies of those he killed and left behind a wake of misery. The falsely accused, those who lost relatives, and the fear and horror his crimes inspired. In a time when police forces didn’t share information and had no way of knowing about crimes that happened a county away, Vacher thrived. Starr also takes time to introduce the reader to the forensic practices (or lack thereof) of the day. I particularly found the description of how coroners conducted autopsies to be fairly stomach churning.
This book was a page turner. I also learned about the French legal system at the time, and the loopholes that allowed someone like Vacher, who by all accounts was violent from his early adolescence, to be pronounced free and cured. The late 1890s was such and interesting time in France and throughout the world. It was an end of innocence and an introduction to the horrific sorts of crimes that we would begin to hear so much about. This was a highly interesting and well written book. I’d recommend it for the not so squeamish.