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By Reason of Insanity

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,024 ratings  ·  122 reviews
At the center of this gripping epic novel of mass murder, pursuit, and psychological terror is Thomas Bishop, a psychotic young killer who believes he is the son of Caryl Chessman, who was executed for rape in California amid intense controversy. Subjected to unmerciful physical and mental torture from an early age, Bishop kills his mother at the age of 10 and is placed in ...more
Trade Paperback, 511 pages
Published 2007 by Chicago Review Press (first published 1979)
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4.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,024 ratings  ·  122 reviews

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Apr 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
One word: WOW.

Two words: Fucking wow.

This book is not your typical noir novel. It is much more. Dark and funny. Grisly and beautiful. Dense and, yet, in some ways bleak and sparse.

It tells the story of an escaped mental patient and the detective who chases him across America. But this isn't a Harrison Ford-like fugitive; this fugitive kills. And he kills to simply kill.

The narrative is straight forwad: an act of violence is followed by the law's interpretation of the violence. (But does anyon
Dawn G
Jan 05, 2015 rated it liked it
Quite a long ride this book! Very dark, graphic and intricate plot just the way I like. I would have given this book a much higher rating if not for two issues. First, I think the book could have had a 100 less pages and been just as good, it was 570 pages long. I do not mind a long book at all; however, it seemed to me that the author used alot of words at times when he could have made the point with much, much less. Secondly, I was a little disappointed in the ending. I thought the author took ...more
Rob Twinem
Jul 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
If you are a fan (and I use the term loosely) of serial killers such as Edmund Kemper the you will love By Reason of Insanity. The story of mass insane killer Thomas Bishop and the fixation of a young hungry reporter Adam Kenton to find Bishop and bring him to justice. This is a brutal and at times graphic story travelling deep into the mind of a mass murderer as he conducts his war against the world in his attempt to explain and show his hatred of women as he butchers his way across America. If ...more
Jack Thornsberry
Jun 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jack by: Stephen King
Stephen King referenced this author in one of his books so after much searching I located it at a used bookstore in Clifton (Ohio, UC campus). I lived by myself at the time in a very dark neighborhood - raccoons and dogs regularly plundered around at night. I started in on this book and could not stop - had to make frequent trips around the house to check on things as I was sort of freaked out. It did not help that I kept hearing sounds and getting startled. Scary crap from beginning to end. It ...more
Andi Wall
Aug 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book probably 20-25 years ago, but it has always stuck in my mind as a very thought provoking book, shame that it's now out of print.
Robert Burnett
Jul 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Best. Serial. Killer. Novel. Ever.
Oct 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most harrowing books I have ever read. I have loaned this book to many of my friends. It is so dogearred and taped. It is also out of print. I actually would look over my shoulder to check if anyone was in the room while reading. Few books can do that to me, but this one is a winner.
Brittany-Marie Aarons
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shane Steven's novel has me spellbound. I fear, with much certainty, that every thriller, mystery and crime novel I read for the rest of my life, will be met with disappointment. I am quite confident that no book is as good as this book.

How can I be so confident? In the past 3 months, I took upon myself the challenge of reading 55 books, written between the 1990s to present, all with 3.9+ Goodreads ratings, many of them bestsellers. Quite a few from legendary authors. Many of them blew me away.
Brent Soderstrum
Apr 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Stevens tells an enjoyable tale about Thomas Bishop who escapes (quite masterfully) from a mental health facility and begans to cross the US killing women in vicious ways. This book was written in the 1970's right when mass murders were becoming the rage with the likes of Charles Manson and such. Stevens gives you a look into Bishop's backround. He was raised by a mother who beat him with a leather strap a lot till he couldn't take it anymore and he killed her resulting in his residencey at Will ...more
Jun 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was one of the best books I have ever read. I love the fact that this book was based on non fiction relating to the story of Caryl Chessman and then transitioning to fiction about this psychopathic mass murderer. I learned a part of history that I did not know about and I became spell bound in the methodical and insane mind of a killer. It was great. I wish Shane Stevens still wrote. The other books that I have found for him have great reviews but are impossible to find. No longer in print. ...more
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
An absolutely enthralling journey through the life of a Psycho-sociopathic mind,I read this book in my teens and have to say I enjoyed every aspect of it,although "enjoy" is not the right word to use. This book preceded and is far superior to "American Psycho" by Brett Easton Ellis and I have often wondered why it was never adapted for the screen. It is a well-written novel and is far superior in terms of style of writing,characterisation, and storyline,than many other serial-killer novels.
Jerry B
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
“By Reason of Insanity” must be a popular book title for other writers, as it took us a bit to locate author Shane Stevens’ volume after a reader friend’s recommendation. Published in 1979, the novel is a tough read, featuring frequent scenes of brutal violence and explicit sex.

Sara Bishop has developed severe hatred and rage against all men, including her own son nearly from birth. After literally being tortured his whole life, ten-year-old Thomas tosses mom into a wood stove and burns her to d
Anna Fennell
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a difficult book to review. It reads like a non-fiction pursuit of a serial killer with all the people involved listed and used throughout. However, it is fiction and is well-thought out. The plot is complicated and the crimes gruesome. Many people act as fouls for one another.

As the reader, you see into the mind of the killer. That is particularly interesting — the psychology of his actions. You also are introduced into the minds of the other characters in the story.

This book is recomm
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf, library-books
I was really looking forward to this book. Tons of five star reviews and recommended by Stephen King himself. What I got was boredom. How does a book about a serial killer become boring? You start adding too many sub-plots that take away from the story. The only parts I found interesting were the parts about the serial killer himself. The rest I started to skim because I just didn't care. I found the beginning very interesting but then this book comes to a crawl. I had to practically force mysel ...more
Sep 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Great book, best serial killer book I've ever read. I read this the first time about 15 years ago, the second time about 5 years ago and I plan on reading it again sometime soon...
Feb 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Um. Best ending ever? When a book about a psychopath makes YOU feel like a psychopath, you know they've done something right.
Feb 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: have-at-home
Read this many, many years ago; but I remember it as one of the scariest books I ever read. One that I would like to re-read.
Feb 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: mystery-suspense
This is a grisly account of the pursuit of an escaped mental patient on a murder rampage.
Story-wise it is gripping, with plenty of interesting subplots, but I am 230 pages into this and I'm asking myself, "Do I know these characters yet? Are they interesting?" And I have admit, NO.

This is a great story, it moves along well, but I find it reads more like a journalist's account or documentary of events. If I were to read a sprawling essay on the Manson killings or Jeffrey Dahmer, I feel it would h
Oct 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I started this book I fell in love with the writing and for the first 100 pages I was enamoured and really hooked up. But with the time my fascination faded, because the writing changes slightly and also because the author really loves to give head ups, and I do not share the love.
But it was a really good reading, captivating and interesting and I liked this book a lot, even if his characters are almost all misogynists, one way or another, and sometimes this was a little bit too much.
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
A dark and compelling portrait of a pychopath. Thomas Bishop, who kills his own mother, and escapes from the institute he is placed in and goes on a killing spree, that has the police,the mob and the press all after him.First published and read 30 years ago,By Reason OF Insanity is still a classic serial killer thriller.
Sep 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Such a good book. Loved every second of it. I read this a few years ago.
Joan Durney
Feb 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved it from start to finish. Very dark and graphic but compassion never lost. Will have to read again
Frederick Pellissier
Apr 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An outstanding book. Take care though anyone with a light constitution, Mr. Stevens books can be disturbing and hard to read for some.
ian lally
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow, what a book, if there is a better serial killer book than this, i haven't read it.
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe just a bit too long but it was really enjoyable, love serial killers and this novel was interesting and always on point.
Don Gillette
Dec 26, 2018 rated it liked it
A good, very complex, very LONG novel that had the tendency to waver back and forth more times than necessary and included too many subplots that went nowhere. The version I read had 511 pages; had the author brought it in at about 300 it would have been a tight, terrifying journey into the mind of a serial killer. As written, it was meandering, had too many law enforcement characters swinging back and forth in their opinions (e.g., "It could be Smith! But it could be Jones!" and then, 3 chapter ...more
May 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book had been sitting in my bookcase for years and I finally decided to read it. This was a good book but could have been a great book if it were edited better and all the political aspects with Stoner were removed. They really were not needed and just extended the length of the book probably by 100 or so pages.

This book does not age well due to current forensics. Thomas Bishop would have been caught much sooner. Also with all the mutilation of the bodies the author does not address all the
Dianne Landry
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this years ago, before I was on Goodreads. This is my favourite book, ever. Thomas Bishop is brought up by his abusive mother to believe he is the son of serial rapist, Caryl Chessman. At age 10 Thomas murders his mother and is institutionalized. He grows up with his only knowledge of the outside world being what he learns by watching TV.

At age 25 he escapes and using the knowledge he learned from TV he manages to elude police while going on a cross-country killing spree.

There is a twist
Samantha O'Grady
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is not my usual kind of book, although I do like thrillers. This book was recommended to me as one of the best serial killers reads.
This was a intense read, but not because of the graphic detail but because the characters are introduced slowly, along with their own demons and reasons for finding a serial killer.
Great writing that allows the reader to climb aboard the thriller train and join the others that seek justice. Small choppy paragraphs show the situation from every angle and the imp
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Would you consider making a recommendation?? 1 1 Apr 05, 2019 03:10PM  

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Aka J.W. Rider

Shane Stevens is an American author of crime novels. He was born in New York, New York to John and Caroline (Royale) Stevens. His novels include Go Down Dead (1966), Way Uptown in Another World (1971), Dead City (1973), Rat Pack (1974), By Reason of Insanity (1979), and The Anvil Chorus (1985). Stephen King has claimed to being a huge fan, and gave tribute to him in his book "The Dar
“They’re just the little people. Unknown all their lives and forgotten as soon as they die. If anyone talks about them, they’re simply called the victim. But the killers, that’s something else! They don’t work or pay taxes or obey the law or live quiet lives of frustration. That’s not news. Instead they kill. That makes them special. Charles Manson will be remembered and written about a hundred years from now, just as Jack the Ripper is remembered a hundred years after his crimes. Everybody wants a little recognition. More things are done for sheer recognition than for money or sex, as far as I can see. But the only ones who get it are the killers. Who knows all the names of Manson’s victims? Or Jack the Ripper’s victims? Or Charles Starkweather’s victims? Or Caryl Chessman’s victims? Who cares? They were just people.” 1 likes
“You want recognition? I mean real recognition? Your life story in all the papers, your face on television all over the country. Books written about you; what you eat, what you feel, what you think, what you don’t think. Maybe even a movie about you. Why not? They made movies about all the killers and maniacs I’ve mentioned, including Chessman. If that’s what you want, it’s easy. Just go out and kill some people. They don’t have to be presidents, they don’t have to be big shots. Just kill enough to make a big splash in the papers. Or kill only one or two in a novel way or a crazy way, anything to get the news media interested. You too can be famous” 1 likes
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