Book Review: Witness

Witness - David Smith with Carol Ann Lee
Witness: The Story of David Smith, chief prosecution witness in the Moors Murders case
I'm very interested in true crime, especially serial killers. It's an interest my dad shares, so he always had lots of crime books around the home and, as an inquisitive, reading-obsessed child, I'd soak up these books. One day, I came across a book called something like "The Black List". It was all about prisoners who will never be released, and had the infamous Myra Hindley mugshot on the cover. I was surprised to see a woman, and asked my dad who she was. When he told me, he was so full of hatred for her that my interest was immediately piqued. I've always had this morbid curiosity so I wanted to find out more about who she was and eventually ended up reading quite a lot about the Moors Murders. 

I think I felt the need to preface this review with that just so you know I'm not a total weirdo! I know there are a lot of fellow crime-interested people out there who will understand that I have no desire to break the law myself! I just find the psychology behind it very interesting. 
Extract of Witness by David Smith
I chose this book after reading Carol Ann Lee's One of Your Own last summer. I found her writing style very accessible and her insight into the mind of Britain's most famous murderess was fascinating. Reviews on Amazon showed that this book was just as critically acclaimed, so I gave it a go.

True to form, I very much enjoyed this book. David Smith, Myra Hindley's brother-in-law, was the chief prosecution witness in the trial, but many people believed that he played a larger part in the murders than he let on. He was hounded by the British press and public, eventually moving away to Ireland with his second wife. He died in May last year, but there was no mention in the press about it. There are many people out there who still believe he was a central figure in the murders. Winnie Johnson, the mother of Keith Bennett, believed herself that David Smith was just as bad as Hindley and Brady. 
Book written by David Smith, who reported Ian Brady and Myra Hindley
In a way, it seems wrong to say I enjoyed it. Smith's life was wrought with trauma, from his mother abandoning him as a baby, to his involvement with Hindley and Brady, to his suicide attempt. However, the book is told through his own memoirs and in his own words for a large part of the book. The rest is written by Lee, using information garnered from her meetings with Smith and his second wife, Mary. 

It's his opportunity to tell the world his story, away from the sensationalism of journalists, or the motives of Hindley and Brady. He is frank about the wrongs he has done- He planned a bank robbery with Brady, attacked a man in a pub, euthanised his father- but never makes excuses for his actions. It's easy to understand the way he has acted and it makes the reader wonder how they would react in his situation. 

Eventually, the book opens up to a message of hope. Smith eventually settled down with Mary, opened a B&B in Ireland, and lived a life with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Every aspect of his life is so interwoven that we are led to wonder whether he would have had the peaceful retirement that he ended up with, albeit it with the dark memories that haunted him into his 60s. Does Smith regret the path his life took? We're left to make our own conclusions. 

Buy Witness here

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  1. I watched a programme recently about it that delved into Hindley's life from the beignning and her relationship with Brady, about his origins and the way he was. a quarter of it was about Smith as well. It made no excuses for any of them but it was on the side of Brady being the most depraved and Hindley going along with it at first to impress him and then becoming a devotee of the sadistic. Fascinating stuff. I'm rather morbid myself in that way

    1. This sounds really interesting. Do you remember what it was called?

    2. No idea. It could be something like 'inside the mind of a killer' or something generic like that. I think it was on BBC4

  2. Love this review becky. I have read this and also one of our own and I was gripped by them both. I also really enjoy true crime stories and the psychology behind it also. Some people find it a little weird when I tell them this but I just love reading about what drives them to it and what kind of mind is capable of these types of crimes. I did really feel for David Smith after reading this book. I didn't actually know a huge amount about him before, this was an eye opener. It was also good to read about the murders and Hindley and Brady by someone so close to them rather than what journalists etc have printed about them xx

    1. I love it when I find other people like me- They understand I'm not just weird haha!

      I really felt for David Smith too. I recently found out that he died in May, yet there was absolutely no mention of it in the press. For someone who was hounded by the press so much in his life, it seems almost sad that he was completely forgotten about in death. If it wasn't for him, who knows how long the murders would have gone on for?

      Saying that, there's always that part thinking that he does have his own interests to protect. I believe that his story is true, but the only person who really knows now is Brady.

  3. I love these sort of books as well! Please post a list somewhere so I can find these good reads!

    1. If you just look under the "Book reviews" tag on the left, you can find all the books I have read this year :)


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