First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mikita Brottman, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.
While I rarely read true crime, I was drawn to this book by Mikita Brottman, which seeks to explore a unique perspective. After a young man killed his family, he went to authorities to admit the act, but felt that he was not in his right mind at the time of the murder. Deemed not criminally responsible, Brian Bechtold was sent to live in a psychiatric facility for the foreseeable future. After meeting Brottman there, Brottman is able to slowly reveal the truth behind what happens inside these facilities. What is presented is as chilling as the lead-up to Brian Bechtold’s arrival! An explosive book that really had me thinking throughout and a must-read for true crime fans!
In 1992, Brian Bechtold walked into a police station in Florida with a stark admission. After some mumbling and confused banter, Bechtold told authorities that he had killed his parents within the last few weeks in the family home. When the police in Maryland made their way to the Bechtold house, they found two bodies, dead for over a week, all of which substantiated Brian’s comments down in Florida.
Citing years of abuse—which the author depicts in the opening chapters that summarise the Bechtold family—Brian did not deny what he had done, but felt that his actions were fuelled by feelings that left him not responsible for his actions. The State of Maryland agreed and deemed Brian Bechtold not criminally responsible for the murders. This would not set him free, however, but rather force him to reside in a psychiatric facility for the foreseeable future. It is here that the crux of the book presents itself.
The book continues by picking up the thread of Brian’s story—and life—within the walls of this facility. The author met Brian as she came to hold weekly meetings with residents to hone their reading and fiction skills. Brian’s story explores not only life within an institution, but also how residents live under constant scrutiny of staff, guards, doctors, and the general public. Some residents, like Brian, were suffering from obvious mental illnesses, but whose live were manageable with the proper medications and daily rituals. Others, on the other hand, appeared highly troubled and in a world all their own. The variance is substantial and truly remarkable for the attentive reader.
The struggle is not only one of the life of a psychiatric patient, but how they are treated and what rights they have. The author shows on numerous occasions the powerlessness that Brian suffered and how his diagnosis all but neutered his ability to stand up for himself. There are both legal and health issues that emerge throughout, many of which led to actual court proceedings. These interactions, albeit brief, with the outside world, show the limits that patients have, particularly when saddled with crimes they have committed.
Mikita Brottman may focus much of her attention on Brian Bechtold’s life, including many of his advancements and regressions, but also branches out to tell the stories of other residents at times, offering strong contrasts in how others were treated, handled, and relegated to a sort of psychotic heap when things got to be too much. There is not a single chapter that does not raise many interesting arguments about psychiatric facilities or the treatment of those within their walls, as well as the difficulties of those who are inside to ever make it back in to the general population. While some have drawn parallels to famous movies about life on a psychiatric ward, Brottman offers fact, rather than glamourised fiction, to tell a story that will surely offer true crime fans new horrors and fears about what happens when most of their books end. The story is far from over at the point of conviction!
I will be the first to admit that true crime is not usually the type of book I flock to read, though there was something here that drew me in. Perhaps it was Brottman’s desire to ‘show the view behind the curtain’ or to discuss the other side of true crime. It may have been the author’s clear narrative that built the story up while also tackling key aspects of the Bechtold experience. The story progressed nicely and the narrative clearly laid things out in such a way that the reader could follow the story without much trouble. The content was, at times, staggering in its bluntness and also somewhat ghastly. That people are regularly treated in such a way, outside the view of the public, is astonishing. It is, however, something that must be said and Brottman has done so effectively. I felt a part of the struggle throughout Bechtold’s turmoil, which is what I expect Brottman wanted.
Kudos, Madam Brottman. You have me curious about what else you may have penned in the genre and so I will have to scour some library shelves to see what I can find.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons