Book covers


Philips, Mike & Olaru, Stejărel: Rȋmaru, Butcher of Bucharest - Profusion Crime - £7.99.

 ‘I don’t bother with the fancy chat.  I just walk up to women and ask them if they want to have sex.’ 

‘99% of the time you must get your face slapped.’


This joke has persisted for as long as anyone can remember.  More than one young man has been tempted to consider whether it might reveal a superior seduction strategy.  Most, though, dwell on the problem of enduring all the numbers saying no and fortunately, for women, the majority of men settle for stuttering and bluff.   The Butcher of Bucharest was different.  If the woman said no, he hit her on the head with an iron bar and raped her.   His approach definitely had shortcomings and it led to murder and, because he had a temper, cannibalism.   This is a grim tale.  Pascal once said that we are all God’s infantry waiting to be butchered but if that is not an adequately miserable truth we have totalitarian regimes, military violence, flawed corrupting hierarchies and greed.  And if that is not enough we have to endure the occasional serial killer who feels obliged to add to the mayhem.

The latest book from Profusion Crime is no more than 173 pages and probably under 70, 000 words , so it is very different from the American often overblown equivalent that analyses the crimes of crazed killers, famous works like ‘The Executioner’s Song’ and ‘Columbine’.  The story is told chronologically and in an unpretentious style that soon convinces us that the narrators are reliable and level headed.   This is important because we have to take much on trust and accept their view of how the events were shaped by occurring in a totalitarian state.  The Butcher lived in Romania and the book convincingly describes a world where neighbours slam the door in the faces of bleeding victims.  These people are terrified of revealing anything about themselves because of fear of the authorities.  ‘Rîmaru’ uses the accounts of victims to advance the story.  The method is marvellous because it not only adds to the authenticity of the book but also gives it a sensible perspective.  For once, the victims are more important than the destructive killer.  Despite that, there are many telling moments about Rîmaru.  Even when reading witness accounts, the reader has a strong sense of a man hidden by shadows, someone with no real sense of himself and driven by compulsions.  The intimate scene where the Butcher accompanies his father in a drive around the streets of Bucharest and his father talks of his life and his women while the son listens with his hatchet hidden in his fist and under his overcoat is particularly memorable.   Ambition is a dark complicated mix often rooted in a sense of personal power and destiny.   It produces people willing to serve totalitarian societies and corrupt oligarchies.  For all its brevity, ‘Rîmaru, The Butcher of Bucharest’ helps us to understand not only heartless servitude but the outsiders.  When their needs are dominated by violent urges such men are driven exclusively by a sense of personal power that obliterates all conscience.

Howard Jackson