Picks and Pans Review: Fatal Vision

updated 10/24/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/24/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Joe McGinniss

"The murder of three members of a family does not, in all cases, bring about a heightened and sustained degree of interest in the survivor," writes McGinniss. "But when the survivor is an intelligent, physically attractive, Princeton-educated physician who happens also to be a Green Beret officer...it is inevitable that he will become, for a time, the focal point of a certain amount of public attention." Jeffrey MacDonald was an all-American boy. He has always insisted that four hippie-style characters invaded his military-base home on the night of Feb. 16, 1970, killed his pregnant wife and two small daughters and attacked him too. It was nine years before MacDonald was brought to trial and found guilty. Even that was only because his wife's stepfather waged a relentless pressure campaign. McGinniss, a solid reporter and author of The Selling of the President 1968, claims that when he began this book, he thought MacDonald innocent. But as he began to dig, McGinniss found a man he describes as a fascinating, brilliant, repellent, psychotic human being. MacDonald was interviewed by psychiatrists and tested by psychologists, and what they found beneath the much admired doctor was an enraged beast. Because of the hideous nature of the crimes, this book is only for readers with strong stomachs. The hearings, grand jury sessions and trials are reported in depth—too much, perhaps, since the book is 663 pages long. But McGinniss does a powerful job of revealing what he believes is an aberrant mind in all its intricacy. (Putnam, $17.95)

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