Scoundrel by Sarah WeinmanScoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free by Sarah Weinman
Narrator: Gabra Zackman
Published by HarperAudio on February 22, 2022
Source: Purchased
Genres: True Crime
Length: 9 hrs 4 mins
Pages: 464
Format: Audiobook
Purchase at Bookshop.org or Audible
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three-stars

In the 1960s, Edgar Smith, in prison and sentenced to death for the murder of teenager Victoria Zielinski, struck up a correspondence with William F. Buckley, the founder of National Review. Buckley, who refused to believe that a man who supported the neoconservative movement could have committed such a heinous crime, began to advocate not only for Smith's life to be spared but also for his sentence to be overturned.

So begins a bizarre and tragic tale of mid-century America. Sarah Weinman's Scoundrel leads us through the twists of fate and fortune that brought Smith to freedom, book deals, fame, and eventually to attempting murder again. In Smith, Weinman has uncovered a psychopath who slipped his way into public acclaim and acceptance before crashing down to earth once again.

From the people Smith deceived--Buckley, the book editor who published his work, friends from back home, and the women who loved him--to Americans who were willing to buy into his lies, Weinman explores who in our world is accorded innocence, and how the public becomes complicit in the stories we tell one another.

Scoundrel shows, with clear eyes and sympathy for all those who entered Smith's orbit, how and why he was able to manipulate, obfuscate, and make a mockery of both well-meaning people and the American criminal justice system. It tells a forgotten part of American history at the nexus of justice, prison reform, and civil rights, and exposes how one man's ill-conceived plan to set another man free came at the great expense of Edgar Smith's victims.

I knew nothing about Edgar Smith, or William F. Buckley, Jr. for that matter, before picking up this book. Turns out Smith was a psychopath, a manipulator, an author, and a murderer. Buckley was rich and the founder and editor-in-chief of the conservative National Review. Sophie Wilkins, the third, less-famous, piece of the triangle was a rather gullible editor at Alfred A. Knopf.

The story of how Edgar Smith manipulated his friends, the legal system, and the public was interesting, but I don’t understand his appeal. I can’t see why they believed him, how he eventually got out of prison – only to almost kill again I should add.

Weinman took us through his correspondence and conversations – it’s a well-researched book. I would have liked a bit more discussion about how his experiences fit in with the larger issues regarding prison reform, race, and politics of the era.

About Sarah Weinman

Sarah Weinman is the author of Scoundrel, published on February 22, 2022. She is also the author of The Real Lolita: A Lost Girl, An Unthinkable Crime, and a Scandalous Masterpiece, which was named a Best Book of 2018 by NPR, BuzzFeed, The National Post, Literary Hub, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Vulture, and won the Arthur Ellis Award for Excellence in Crime Writing. She also edited Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit & Obsession (Ecco), winner of the Anthony Award for Best Nonfiction/Critical Work; Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s (Library of America); and Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives (Penguin).

Weinman writes the twice-monthly Crime column for the New York Times Book Review. A 2020 National Magazine Award finalist for Reporting and the Calderwood Journalism Fellow at MacDowell, her work has also appeared most recently in New York, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, and AirMail, while her fiction has been published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and numerous anthologies.

She lives in New York City.

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