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Speak of the Devil (Kindle Single) [Kindle Edition]

Aaron Gell
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $1.99

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Book Description

Years before Women’s Wear Daily reporter Peter Braunstein became the so-called “Fire Fiend”—dressing up like a firefighter to attack a former coworker, then embarking on a multi-state crime spree—Aaron Gell knew him as a valued colleague.

Making use of unprecedented access to Braunstein’s never-before-published writings, including his “Fugitive Diary” and criminal manifesto, along with a series of in-depth interviews with the infamous madman he once considered a friendly acquaintance, Gell revisits a sensational crime that riveted the New York fashion world and captivated the city’s tabloids, looking behind the lurid headlines to follow Braunstein’s troubling trajectory—from successful fashion journalist to would-be killer and wanted fugitive.

“This brilliant little book asks the most fundamental question of all: what do you really know about the people you think you know? If you've ever wondered what goes on in the brain of another person, you will read Aaron Gell's book as I did--in one wild spree, as if drunk, as if dreaming while awake. It's riveting, creepy, wonderful and strange." --Rich Cohen, author Tough Jews, Sweet and Low, and Israel Is Real

"Aaron Gell has written a fascinating story on his friendship with one crazy person, and in so doing has given us a brilliant meditation on how well we can know anyone. This is sad and funny, smart and moving, lyrical and hard-headed--all the impossible combinations we get with the best writing. You won't be able to stop reading." --Darin Strauss, author Half a Life, More Than It Hurts You, and Chang and Eng

A portion of Aaron Gell’s proceeds from Speak of the Devil supports SafeHarbor.org, New York City’s leading service organization for victims of domestic violence.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Peter Braunstein was a talented writer for Women's Wear Daily and The Village Voice, who on Halloween night in 2005 wore a New York firefighter's uniform to gain access to the apartment of a former co-worker. After assaulting the woman through the night, he fled New York and went on a weeks-long crime spree until his arrest in Memphis. A tabloid sensation, he was later sentenced to 18 years in prison. In 2011, Braunstein contacted Aaron Gell, an editor and colleague at W. magazine. Gell found his swaggering former friend "amusing and genial" and eventually accepted Braunstein's offer to visit him in prison and get "the definitive interview." Over the course of subsequent interviews, letters, and phone calls, Gell strives to crash past Braunstein's wall of bravado and intellectual rationalizations for his crime. But in this honest and often uncomfortable story, Gell admits that he had always liked Braunstein, who even behind bars remained funny and smart. "He filed on deadline, and his copy was clean... the guy seemed okay," Gell writes. And later: "I still liked Peter, perhaps more so than when we'd worked together." But as the story progresses toward Braunstein's devolution into criminal madness, Gell acknowledges--slowly at first, then with self-flagellating honesty--that his charming and self-absorbed interviewee remained a manipulative and pathologically delusional creep: "one part Hannibal Lecter, one part Lenny Bruce." It isn't until stumbling across police photographs of Braunstein's victim that Gell finally realizes "how thoroughly I'd been snowed by him." Gell may not have gotten the Capote-esque story he'd hoped for, but give him credit for discrediting Braunstein's self-serving "me-against-the-world" narrative. --Neal Thompson

Product Details

  • File Size: 188 KB
  • Print Length: 73 pages
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006LDA6KE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #302,696 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very thought provoking December 17, 2011
By Lisa
Format:Kindle Edition
Perfect Example of Liking the PERSON but NOT What They DO.

The author presents a very unbiased story of an intelligent, likeable guy who just "snapped." He didn't "dumb-down" the criminal or search his childhood to find a tortured cat. He used the guy's own words, which flowed seamlessly with his own commentary which enables the reader a rare personal glimpse into his psyche - rather than the technical psych-speak we usually get...and isn't that precisely why many read this genre?

OH! Before I forget...to the reviewer, and many like him/her who asked us not to buy this book - please look up the "Son of Sam" law which states that criminals CANNOT PROFIT from their crimes...then read the last page of this book that states THE PROCEEDS FROM THIS BOOK GO TO A SHELTER FOR BATTERED WOMEN.

Sorry! I'm not trying to be mean, but I don't like being judged for my reading preference by people who MISTAKENLY think I'm buying bon-bons for the prisoner every time I purchase a true crime book. It's also VERY unfair to give 1-star reviews to the AUTHOR just because you don't approve of the SUBJECT without even reading it. (Psst...I've read several books about Caylee Anthony, too!) Regardless of your attempt to drive down the rating, it didn't work...but who knows how much money you may have stopped the women's shelter from getting?
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Someone who just wants to watch the world burn December 18, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Aaron Gell sets out to find out why Peter Braunstein did it - dressed up like a firefighter, set off a smoke bomb to gain entry to a former coworker's apartment and brutalized her for 13 hours in a 2005 crime characterized by its bravado as much as for its brutality.

Braunstein provides a possible answer himself by perversely describing what he did as an act of empathy, a way to get people to pay attention.

"I'm experiencing all this hurt, and you don't seem interested. So the only way I can make you interested is to make you hurt the way I'm hurting. I mean, that's what I'm looking for," he says.

Or, borrowing line from "Dark Knight," Braunstein says the why of it all may be as simple and nihilistic as "Some men just want to watch the world burn."

It's hard not to feel a little grimy after reading Gell's search for understanding. The account late in the essay of what actually happened in the apartment is factual without being lurid.

Still anything that comes close to an understanding of what motivated Braunstein - parental neglect, rejection, insecurity - carries with it a sense that somehow Braunstein is himself some sort of victim and that society somehow shares some responsibility for what he did.

Gell senses he's swimming in rough waters by giving Braunstein a voice, but ultimately decides that there is value in asking why. His search is written with talent, compassion and a clear-headed approach to difficult issues.

Decide for yourself whether you want to understand and care. I for one choose to not feel the slightest bit of empathy, compassion or an iota of sympathy that is implicit in understanding Braunstein's motivation. I hold out hope that the criminal remains locked up and is forgotten.
[3.5 stars]
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 4,000 words is not enough December 17, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
The shorter (if you can call a 4,000-word story short) version of this book that ran in the New York Observer was fascinating but only skates on the surface of Peter Braunstein's weird story. In this director's cut, Gell talks about Braunstein's grim childhood; his devolution from a promising media writer to a coke-vacuuming, ex-girlfriend stalking, home-invading fiend; and most fascinating of all his weeks on the lam. I bought this book last night in a bout of insomnia, and I'm sorry to say it didn't help me at all; even after I felt like I might be able to get back to sleep, I had to stay up and finish it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant Page-Turner March 19, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
There's an old saying between writers that goes, "Easy reading is damn hard writing". This book is evidence of that sort of work. This book was my first encounter with Aaron Gell's work, and I have to say that I'm looking forward to lots more. In fact, I'm on a mission at this point to hunt down some more.

Aaron tells the story of famed "Fire Perv" New Yorker Peter Braunstein, who led a two-month life on the run as a fugitive. While from the outset his crimes appear degenerate, you'll find yourself in slight awe at his surprising logic behind it all. While I don't in any way endorse or approve of the actual crimes, I found myself pretty swayed by his social critique and commentary, the likes of which drove him to do what he did. That's gonna be hard for anyone to understand who hasn't read the book.

I'm giving this book 5 stars and I haven't given any writing that sort of review in a long time. It's a page-turner, to say the least. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange man, strange story December 21, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
When I first read this Kindle Single, I kept thinking about Ann Rule's book, The Stranger Beside Me, in which she tells the true story of working for quite a while next to this very nice, considerate, handsome young man named Ted Bundy. They became friends and continued to correspond until Bundy was executed. Aaron Gell didn't remain close friends with his co-worker, Peter Braunstein, while he served his 18 years in prison, but he eventually needed to put the Braunstein he knew next to the criminal that Braunstein became to see how the two matched up. Braunstein also wanted the attention of having Gell write about him, so Gell had access to all that writing that his former friend had done while locked up, and he could try to piece things together if possible, to see what drove him to snap.

I think the same kind of confusion and disbelief happened to Aaron Gell as it did to Ann Rule, only Peter Braunstein wasn't in the same class as Ted Bundy. Since Gell had known Braunstein and they were both in the same industry, Gell must have felt very confused when his friend went off the deep end and broke into a female co-worker's apartment dressed as a fireman to put her off guard, and then attacked her and kept her as his hostage all night. He never raped her and never killed her, but the woman was traumatized enough going through an experience like Braunstein put her through. When he left her he went on a crime spree and was eventually caught and sentenced to 18 years. He became a tabloid sensation.

When he asked Aaron Gell to read his papers and write about him, it may have been self-serving, but he may also have been trying to make some sense of his own actions. Whatever the case, it made for some nightmarish reading for Gell.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Look Into A Life Ultimately Wasted
What happens when someone you know commits a serious crime? Do you maintain contact? Try to reach out and help? Read more
Published on January 19, 2012 by Stephen
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Story.
I think the author did a superb job telling the story often using the Braunstein's own words , and never making excuses for his behavior. Read more
Published on January 17, 2012 by cikaladim
3.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, oddly humorous, fast-paced
A quick and compelling Kindle single, the author weaves a bizarre true-crime tale of psychology and analysis. Read more
Published on January 10, 2012 by tim3t
1.0 out of 5 stars This is my only one star I can ever recall. Poorly written.
I am glad I didn't pay much for this book. I have never attempted to read a book so poorly written. It jumps all over the place. Read more
Published on January 2, 2012 by Ms. Goose
1.0 out of 5 stars Not worth the 99 cents
The author spends too much time talking about himself. I am a huge crime buff but I was so bored with this book I put it down and did not finish it!
Published on December 28, 2011 by Acree
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking
In this book, Aaron Gell had to suspend his horror in order to get into the mind of a sociopath, and he takes us along with him. Read more
Published on December 16, 2011 by Carolyn Levy
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, offbeat and a little disturbing
The only thing I found incredulous about this book is that Aaron Gell claims he considered not writing it. Read more
Published on December 15, 2011 by Adrianne
1.0 out of 5 stars Please Don't Buy
This guy set fire to a building. Dressed as a fireman, had NYPD badge to obtain entrance to his victim's apartment. Read more
Published on December 14, 2011 by E. Arnol
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