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The Bad Seed

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  7,727 ratings  ·  244 reviews

What happens to ordinary families into whose midst a child serial killer is born? This is the question at the center of William March's classic thriller. After its initial publication in 1954, the book went on to become a million-copy bestseller, a wildly successful Broadway show, and a Warner Brothers film. The spine-tingling tale of little Rhoda Penmark had a tremendous

Paperback, 217 pages
Published August 1st 1997 by Harper Perennial (first published 1954)
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T.D. Whittle
This book is a good read, despite already knowing the basic plot -- as I believe everyone does who has ever heard of it (the title rather gives it away, too). March builds his narrative cleverly and precisely. He opens the story by focusing upon a single family and their social circle, in a small American town, and then narrows the focus down little by little, finally isolating his two main characters completely -- in a social and psychological sense -- so that the reader's anxiety is held taut, ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
I can see why this book had popular appeal and shock value back in 1954. Ted Bundy was still just a fledgling psychopath, and Freudian analysis was still a big fad. The word "psychopath" wasn't even in use, and is never mentioned in the novel. Some of the analysis and conclusions are way off base, but William March got a lot of things right.

Rhoda Penmark, the eight-year-old serial killer, is quite chilling and convincing given what we now know about the psychopathic personality profile. Born wi
I think I might have actually known this child....or several just like her. They seem to be drawn to me like moths to a flame. This is a charming exposé of a " darling little girl" who is totally misunderstood! She just wants what she wants "and she wants it now". Not unlike Veruka Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but on massive doses of steroids.
I mean, seriously, why can't people just let her have her way, then she wouldn't t be angry and upset, and take revenge on those who " done
Jul 05, 2012 Hannah rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Hannah by: Margaret
Shelves: 2012-reads, spookies
The Bad Seed must have been a terrifying read back in the less cynical 1950's when it was published. Even today, parts of William March's story of little Rhoda Penmark have a chilling effect on the reader, perhaps even more then if the story had been more graphic in nature.

March's prose is spare, which works well in highlighting the turmoil and tension created by the story of a child born bad.

The narrative isn't from the child herself, but from her mother Christine, who slowly uncovers her own d
This was the basis for one of my all-time favourite movies, a delirious and delicious camp classic. The novel differs quite a bit from the film – especially the ending. While the film concentrates on the evil and murderous little girl and her mother, the book goes into considerable detail about the mother’s own childhood and her own mother, and the true significance of the title becomes much plainer. Both movie and novel are wonderful examples of 1950s American paranoia, but this is not paranoia ...more
Steve Anderson
This was a nice surprise to discover. I heard about William March from a reader of Under False Flags, who told me about March's quote about war in his WWI novel Company K:

"If the common soldiers of each army could just get together by a river bank and talk things over calmly, no war could possibly last as long as a week."

If only it were true. That reader is also an expert in crime noir, and he reminded me about this novel, which takes a far more damning and sad view of people. Another early Marc
This creepy 1954 classic tale of the evil Rhoda Penmark must have been quite a shocker in its day, and IMHO still is today. I was hardly one-third of the way into the story, and I already wanted to ring the little monster's neck and run and hide from the repulsive handyman! Not the ending I hoped for, but it definitely added to the creep-factor of the book. (hope to track down the movie)

Update: August 2,2014

OMGOSH! I do not know how I missed this excellent horror flick, and I must admit I thoug

Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

What would you do if you suspect your child isn’t simply odd, but might just be a serial killer?

If I didn’t already know, there is no way I would have guessed this book to be 60 years old. A chilling thriller about Rhoda Penmark and how she always makes sure to get whatever her little heart desires. If you like tales of the macabre that keep you on the edge of your seat up to the last page, put this classic on your to-read list.

Nature or nurture? I have always heard references to the "Bad Seed" and caught the gist of the term. Now that I have read the book, I am a little more creeped out but also find William March a bit more sophisticated in his story telling than I anticipated for the horror genre. March pulls the reader along with just the right amount of suspense and if you are a parent, well, you may not look at your own little precious the same way again. Oh, kids will be kids, right? I mean, my daughter wasn't r ...more
I am glad this was a book club read or I would have never experienced this book. It was thrilling and interesting and creepy. It was somewhat predictable and I wasn't biting my nails but I wasn't reading this in 1954. If I had read this back then I would be shocked and running to my neighbors and shoving the book at them and demanding them to read it. The ending is soooo good!
"What will you give me if I give you a basket of kisses?" How about a friendly shove off the stairs? Creepy little child, but an enjoyable read! Made me want to put some red lip stick on and get a blunt bang cut.
A really well written book about an evil child - I think it's safe to say that without spoilers considering title and book cover.
If you love a good nature versus nurture conundrum then yay!
The characters worked really well and the predictability did not take anything away from the book.

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The Bad Seed has a good underlining suspense feel to it. Rhoda, the psychotic child serial killer, is portrayed perfectly with her little "routines" she has learned to try to pass off as having any type of feelings or caring. Reading of her interactions effectively gives you the uneasy feeling that something just isn't right with her. She is adorable, polite and well mannered, but so completely unconnected to any other human being, even her mother.

I did like the twist regarding Rhoda's mother,
A breathless read. My fairy tales professor had a still shot from the movie, in which we see the girl's face as her mother hugs her: the smile on her face is just as frightening as, if not more than, the cover of this book. That little actress was a genius (or a monster).

Ruth Sims
The story of a child killer is chilling just in its concept, and the "bad seed" idea, once the author makes clear just what is meant by his use of it, is one of those things that we've all wondered about. Are psychopaths born or made? Some of the theories brought up in the book remind the reader that it was written fifty years ago. Anyway, I think the story itself was, indeed, chilling. But there were a lot of irritating things about the writing itself that were distracting to me, and more "head ...more
TCM host Ben Mankiewicz describes Rhoda Penmark as “half Cindy Brady, half Norman Bates,” which, I would say, is a fairly accurate description. Mischievous and deceitful, sociopathic and callous, little eight year old Rhoda Penmark has power to fool most adults into believing in her façade of innocence and charm.

William March’s The Bad Seed has a grotesque quality in both plot and characters. The sentimentality of suburban life is sharply contrasted with random, startling violence. March presen
Before the Village of the Damned or the Children of the Corn, there was Rhoda Penmark. Rhoda seems like a perfect young lady, but those that get to know her well enough eventually start to notice something off about her behavior.

I love that rather than setting things up as a mystery, the reader is left with little doubt about Rhoda's true nature. The story here is more about Rhoda's troubled mother, Christine, and her struggle to both accept the truth and to decide what to do about it.

The other
Christian Engler
Because of William March's indisputable classic, which was nominated for the 1955 National Book Award and which also introduced the term `bad seed' into the American lexicon, I don't think there is one person who has either read the novel or seen the film and not experienced their own share of shudders as well as a disturbing sense of the uncomfortable in the pit of their stomachs. Having read and seen both the novel and the black and white film adaptation of it, it still has the power to shock ...more
Noran Miss Pumkin
May 12, 2008 Noran Miss Pumkin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adults only
Recommended to Noran by: my father, via the movie
Shelves: classic
when i was growing up, my father referred to my older sister sister, as "the bad seed"--she was 10 years older than me. i did not understand the reference, until i was sat in front of the television one day, with father, and watch the movie, based on this novel. now, my sister did not kill anyone, but she did have many of the same mannerisms, and still does--to get her way. i went through a phase, where i read the books that my favorite classic films were based on. this book takes things father, ...more
Potentially disturbing subject matter, but a decent read. What I find most interesting is that the author was able to illustrate antisocial personality disorder so well before the term was even coined. I enjoyed this book because it didn't make me have to think too much and I wanted a "light" read in between the classics.
Funny how your brain builds up strange images of the characters when you read. For me, Rhoda was...

How does that work? Well, I suppose there was something doll-like about Rhoda. She has to be one of the scariest book villains ever. Another reason to give children a wide berth (as if I needed one). This was a very scary book - the evil twin of We Need To Talk About Kevin. Only Christine, Rhoda's mum, never did talk about Rhoda. To anyone. And it did not end well, people! I could've lived without
Matti Karjalainen
Christine Penmarkin kahdeksanvuotias tytär Rhoda on useimpien ihmisten mielestä kuin pieni enkeli. ÄJotakin outoa lapsessa kuitenkin on: valehteleminen ja ihmisten manipulointi tuntuvat sujuvan häneltä vähän turhan helposti, ja viimeistään sinä päivänä kun kun pieni Claude Daigle hukkuu koulun kesäretkipäivänä omituisissa olosuhteissa, alkaa äidinrakkaus ja usko lapseensa joutua koetukselle. Voiko lapsi olla paha, ja jos voi, niin mistä moinen voi johtua - ympäröivistä olosuhteista vai sukuperim ...more
Nature or nurture? Born that way or turned that way? Predestination or free will? I will not attempt those in this review, but this book has those undertones while admittedly not in the expected way. Published in the 1950s, this novel was probably considered shocking in its day. It details the development of a cutesy tootsie little girl who is the object of much affection. The kind of young lady we all would hope to parent. Charming, attentive, studious, respectful, good with adults, the apple o ...more
Chris Mcmullen
Although not nearly as creepy as I was hoping for or anticipating The Bad Seed was an interesting, suspenseful read. I’ve never seen the famous movie or play so my opinion is coming purely from reading the 1954 novel by William March. I found the beginning slow and the ending very predictable once Christine started to develop her relationship with Reginald and uncover her family history. It took me a while to get into the book just because the language, scenery and situations are from another ti ...more
For my full review, please visit Casual Debris.

There are a number of ideas running through this little suspense novel. Far more than you'd expect from what was intended to be a 1950s pulp paperback. Much has been discussed about March's treatment of the serial killer, from his accurate portrayal of a sociopath to the less than likely notion that such pathologies are hereditary. Yet, as Elaine Showalter rightfully states in her introduction to the 1997 Ecco edition, "Contemporary readers may sens
Silly and pulpy and fun. Obsessed with pop psychology, and you should pretty much ignore those parts, but aside from that it's fast-paced and a fun plot, and the precursor to both We Need to Talk About Kevin and Dexter. Feel free to roll your eyes as you go, but you're probably going to have a good time.
Rhoda! Rhoda! Insanity in all its glory! William March, definitely gave some of the best imagery in this well written psychological novel. I could see every character as if I'd dived in head first looking them in their eyes. The funniest and best was the description of Leroy 's wife . Hilarious!

Overall , I enjoyed the story immensely and look forward to watching the old B/W movie. 4.5 stars
Lydia LaPutka
It took me a long time to finish this book because school started. As a teacher, I have very little time and/or energy to read at the end of the day. And I'm only a part-time teacher!!! But that may have altered my perception of the book.

This is definitely a creepy book. The idea of a child who does heinous things and feels no remorse? Hideous and frightening. It makes me want to read about female serial killers, but that just might creep me out TOO much!

The downfall of the book is its predicta
A chilling look into the atmosphere surrounding a child sociopath who, with no conscience and a lack of empathy, will kill if necessary to get whatever she desires to have.

In William March's deeply intriguing novel we follow the primary theme of Nature vs Nurture, and we're forced to raise the question if one is born evil, or if it is something we pick up and learn along the way.

The story of a child sociopath, something of a rarity in both literature and everyday life, intrigued me from beginnin
Daniel Gonçalves
This is how a novel should be writen: put a very strong, emphatic, emotional, and humanistic prose on top of a consistent cast of three dimensional characters acting out on a believable world. Then you got the formula to success for a wonderful novel.
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The Bad Seed by William March 5 75 May 02, 2013 09:27PM  
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William March (born William Edward Campbell) was an American author and a highly decorated US Marine. The author of six novels and four short-story collections, March was a critical success and heralded as "the unrecognized genius of our time", without attaining popular appeal until after his death. His novels intertwine his own personal torment with the conflicts spawned by unresolved class, fami ...more
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“He worked with that aggrieved persistence, as though calling on heaven to witness the injustice done him, which the sullen everywhere bring to their trivial tasks; and as he worked, his lips moved in unison with his hands to shape his petulant thoughts for his pleasure, for his mind rehearsed eternally the inequities that had been forced upon him—inequities which he must endure in silence, since he was one of the underprivileged ones of the world, the unfortunate son of an unfortunate sharecropper, the pathetic victim of an oppressive system, as everyone who knew anything at all admitted, and had admitted for a long time.” 0 likes
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