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on September 25, 2015
Well worth reading and easy to pick up and and put down then pick up again
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on January 19, 2012
What happens when someone you know commits a serious crime? Do you maintain contact? Try to reach out and help? There are no manuals, and all the while your mind will try to comprehend the incomprehensible.

In Speak of the Devil, Aaron Gell is forced to ponder this scenario after a letter from prison lands on his desk at the New York Observer. It's from an old colleague who worked with Gell at Women's Wear Daily (WWD), Peter Braunstein. He is serving time for impersonating a fire officer, after which he gained entry to a woman's apartment and proceeded to strip and hold her captive for 18 hours. He subsequently went on the run, a change from his original plan, to murder Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

In the beginning Gell grapples with his morals, why should he give someone like Braunstein exposure? In the end he deems it as a worse crime to not try and understand what made this seemingly normal, educated, professional guy do something as terrible as he did. "Immodest as it sounds, I wanted to help redeem him." He says.

The story is ceaselessly gripping, from Braunstein's early promise as a noteworthy writer to his gradual descend into madness, his time on the run and his current situation in lock up. Something about seeming psychopath stories is perpetually riveting, perhaps it stems from a need to find patterns in their lives that are not in our own. As Speak of the Devil unravels, it reads more and more like a movie script, something Gell acknowledges, otherwise one would be forgiven for forgetting that it isn't a work of fiction.

After he initially spent 6 hours interviewing Braunstein at the Clinton Correctional Facility, Gell knew he hadn't yet scratched the surface. He didn't rush it and spent a couple of hours a week talking to him over the phone. Filing away at the almost generic, `psycho' comments Braunstein at first gave, "Proximity to death equals happiness. And I had a death wish all my life", being a prime example. Eventually through his hotline to the prisoner he gets closer to the core of his psychosis.

A hatred his father becomes evident, he confessed to a teenage Braunstein that he was married before, and the wife? His own Mother's sister. If that wasn't bad enough, they had conceived a child, Peter's cousin. With this and some other unusual behavior, his anger towards his father has grounds for justification.

He calls his parents narcissistic although comes across a huge narcissist himself, even seeking sympathy after his HIV test came back negative in the 1980's. When he left WWD to write a play about Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick, he went over the edge, after the disastrous reception the play received. His detachment from reality slowly deters away, at the time he wrote a `Personal manifesto aka the making of a menace'. Gell has shifted through it and gives us the best bits. A particular episode, when he was sleeping in a restroom cubicle of a college library, equally shows off his writing ability and at the same time his calculated detachment.

The story is well paced and the subject is dealt with utmost care, steering clear from the obvious pitfalls of lambasting Braunstein and also the easy, vicarious path of reveling in the sordid `oh my god' details. It is a truly intriguing story, from the remorseless prisoner to the young unnamed girl accomplish, running his errands on the outside. For bad or worse, after you've read this, you'll keep an eye on the name Peter Braunstein from here on.

"In my lifetime those that kill, the news world hands them stardom," Sang the mercurial British icon Morrissey and his words ring through (note though that Braunstein didn't kill!). I read Speak of the Devil on a flight and spent the first few days of my vacation at my girlfriends parents house, unable to avoid talking about a twisted psychopath. That should tell you all about how enjoyable it is.
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on December 16, 2011
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. I found it incredibly thought-provoking and tragic.
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on January 17, 2012
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. He portrayed the character as a 'real' person - not a monster created by some bizarre chain of events. Wonderful read.
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on January 2, 2012
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. The story itself is ok but I can't believe it made it through the publishing process.
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on December 28, 2011
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!
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on December 14, 2011
This guy set fire to a building. Dressed as a fireman, had NYPD badge to obtain entrance to his victim's apartment. Once inside he held a gun to her head, chloroformed her and brutalized her for the next 13 hours. He gagged her, tied her hands together and then to the bed. He repeatedly molested her and drugged her with a sleeping pill, took one himself and napped beside her. Aaron Gell didn't know any of this? Not only does he work in media - It was in all the NY papers and a quick google search reveals it. So to say Braunstein is charming is disgusting. Braunstein believes his victim should be thanking him thank she is still alive.
44 comments7 of 49 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

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