Review: Magnetized

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Review for “Magnetized: Conversations with a Serial Killer” by Carlos Busqued (2020)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Over several days in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1982, a nineteen-year-old teenager named Ricardo Melogno murdered four taxi drivers. He took no money from his victims, and, once he encountered each man, knew that he was going to murder them. When asked why he did it, he claimed that he had no idea of what drove him to murder four people. Thus is the beginning of “Magnetized,” a compilation of hours of interviews with Melogno completed by the author that explores his life, crimes, and his current state of mind.

For those who enjoy true crime (as I do), this book is fascinating. Melogno recalls how he spent most of his childhood and adolescence completely detached from reality, in a kind of dissociative state. It is this same state in which he shot four taxi drivers on four separate days over a one week period. Once incarcerated, he is taken to a mental hospital, where his diagnosis is a complete mystery to the experts there (schizophrenia? psychosis? personality disorder?) and he stays heavily drugged. Years later with his criminal sentence complete, he is still not a free man. He is still in state custody, even though his sentence has long passed. Why? Because his doctors and the courts still feel he is a danger to society. Not surprisingly, Melogno agrees. The book ends with the suggestion that even Melogno is not sure that he won’t kill again.

Although this book tells the story of a killer, I never got the sense that empathy for Melogno was the aim here. Rather, the question the author seems to be raising is about the ethical treatment of those who society has labeled ‘monsters.’ There is no doubt that the state has the responsibility to protect citizens from dangerous people, but is it really ethical to keep a person in custody once their sentence is served? Where do the lines of criminal behavior and mental illness cross, and how to treat (or punish) those who have crossed it? What, if anything, is society’s obligation to those like Melogno? I struggled with these questions and many more. A tough read, but I completely got this book.

Four stars, a must read.

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