The Bottom Line: For fans of the serial killer genre, this shattering autobiography by the child of a real-life mass-murderer will be absolutely unforgettable.
“I first contemplated suicide at the age of four,” writes Shannon O’Leary, who uses pseudonyms to protect family members. “I devised my death plan down to the very last detail but never had the courage to see it through to completion. Instead, my mother’s face would keep interceding, begging me to stay alive.”
Set in Australia, the book begins with the author’s birth in 1959, and continues through her father’s death in 2009 as a free and unpunished man. Complete with research citations, and set within the context of Australian society throughout the decades, The Blood on My Hands is not for the squeamish. Every imaginable emotion is seemingly laid bare, as the author deals with abuse, guilt, grief and everything in between.
Told in first-person chapters that are often as brutal as they are surreal, “the devil” seems to plague the family until O’Leary realizes that its evil stems from her father (who is henceforth, “The Devil.”) Among the most disturbing passages is one where O’Leary discusses the carnage unleashed on family pets. “In the past many of our pets had gone missing in the bush,” she writes. “In the beginning it had been an average of one every six months, but now the killing had escalated. Beloved pets like Sheba, Timothy, and Goldie had all met death, and now our golden retriever…The animals were executed, not as a ritualistic practice to appease the Devil, but as a way of educating me. Through the drill of carnage, he hoped to gain absolute control of me.”
The net effect of O’Leary’s narrative is deeply moving and thought-provoking, and that goes double for nearly every scene involving her mother, who is the father’s tragically silent, dark passenger throughout the years. As a work of confessional art, The Blood on My Hands is also incredibly gutsy. As editor C. MacKenzie astutely observes, “How many Patrick O’Learys are out there, serial killers who are clever and lucky?” Overall, the book serves not only as fascinating first-person testimony, but also as a warning about the consequences of denial and submissive behavior in the face of a master manipulator.