The Bad Seed by William March

No Series

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 impact on the thriller genre and generated a whole perdurable crop of creepy kids. Today, The Bad Seed remains a masterpiece of suspense that's as chilling, intelligent, and timely as ever before.

“It seemed to her suddenly that violence was an inescapable factor of the heart, perhaps the most important factor of all - an ineradicable thing that lay, like a bad seed, behind kindness, behind compassion, behind the embrace of love itself. Sometimes it lay deeply hidden, sometimes it lay close to the surface; but always it was there, ready to appear, under the right conditions, in all its irrational dreadfulness.”

It's amazing to think this book is almost 60 years old - it was definitely a chilling and thought-provoking story for it's time, spawning at least two film adaptions. Rhoda Penmark is a charming, old-fashioned little girl with zero conscience and the mind and heart of a killer. Written in the 50's, the author dared to be bold and unapologetic about the possibility of a soulless child born due to bad genetics. Since I've seen both films more than once, I already knew the storyline well - they followed the book closely - but the well-done pen of March kept it alive and interesting.

While not high in suspense or quickly paced, it's more of a slow unraveling of a horrible discovery and its fallout. The book is primarily told through the point of view of the mother, Christine, who has her own morbid past that comes to light when she discovers how empty her daughter is. Some of the book is written through forms of letters to her husband who works off in the military and leaves her alone to have to deal with this horror on her own. The neighbors play big roles - some there to admire little Rhoda, the janitor who keeps teasing her and discovers for himself how horrible the child really is, and convenient writers on serial killers and past crimes who help lead Christine conveniently on the right paths.

A slower pace isn't a crutch for the book since the psychological dread basically coats the pages. When a violent crime is discovered, it's soul-wrenching and beyond disturbing. The reader keeps seeing the mother of a dead child having frequent meltdowns, and the backstory with Rhoda and an elderly lady is unsettling. There is a murder that takes place on page, and it's definitely just as horrifying. The ending is an ironic twist on how sometimes creepiness lives on despite the good guy's best efforts.

It gets into your head, makes you think about things in a different light, and gives you the creeps. Psychologically intense and highly recommended to readers of any type of fiction. Nonfiction fans who like True Crime will likely enjoy it as well. 

Note - Apparently Lifetime is remaking this movie - let's hope they avoid the melodrama they tend to produce. The foreword focusing on feminism implications may have been interesting in its way, but it also felt out of place. I think it was simply a case of the author choosing a small girl with skirts and pigtails as the more unassuming of the gender in comparison to the brawling and more hyper boys in the 50s.

   Book Quotes:

“Is it that the eye finds what the mind is seeking?”

   Cover Gallery: