Packaging evil as splatter-pulp There's got to be more to it than this, says Pete Davies

The Evil that Men Do by Brian Masters Doubleday, pounds 16.99: Harmful neurotics, silly saints and nasty passages from the classics.

Readers expecting a gorefest will be disappointed. The packaging's all there - the doomy pomp of the title, the jacket with the disembodied mad eyes on a ground of blood-red, the praise for Masters' previous work on Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nilsen - but don't be fooled. This is philosophy here, this is a dig into the deep matter of why we do bad stuff. This is "an incisive, thoughtful, and provocative meditation...''

And I'm the King of Buganda. Sloppy, self-regarding, banal, this book is the intellectual equivalent of open-cast mining; foraging across a mountain of other people's ideas, it may unearth an incontestable conclusion, but it doesn't half trash the landscape along the way. It reaches its nadir with a perfunctory account of the Holocaust lifted wholesale from Martin Gilbert - but there is laziness throughout.

It won't do to warn against unthinking simplifications, and then to claim that pit-bull owners "are all, to a man, feeble brutes''. You cannot describe Joan of Arc as "arguably a harmful neurotic'', and yet say sixty pages later that "there was nothing of the hysteric about her''. It's patently nonsense on any page to proclaim that "there are dozens of St Francises in all our lives''. Other statements are simply risible. Audrey Hepburn had "more spunk'' than Jesus? Penelope Keith is in "the dominant five per cent of the human race''? As for the author's announcement that, "it is certainly true that men ... sometimes slap their mates across the face'' with their penises, I'm afraid at that point I had to drop the book helpless with laughter, afflicted with surreal visions of a pack of Loaded readers indulging in horseplay in the public bar.

Even properly construed, it's a peculiar image, but some of Brian Masters's other remarks are pretty peculiar too. His contention that we hear more about child abuse than its incidence warrants sits ill with his apparent downgrading of some of it to mere "silly sexual play''; his solution for the hysteric presumptions of St Theresa of Lisieux, that "she ought to have been spanked'', is at best carelessly brusque. More mundanely, his cod-behavioural description of a row in the kitchen ("the husband has disordered materials on the wife's territory'') is woefully hackneyed - but if you can extrapolate from nature that "the appropriate behaviour of the female is to yield and submit'', then the charge (to put this mildly) that you're not really up to speed on today's gender front cannot be far behind.

Masters's attitudes are an odd mishmash all round; he lurches without blinking from the hearteningly liberal to the sweepingly obtuse . Righteously dismissive of the nastier shades of modern Conservatism, he argues passionately and persuasively that no moral system can be complete if it doesn't accord rights to animals as much as to people. Yet the next moment he's declaring that "Christianity is morally unwholesome'' or making opaque remarks about the similarity between the gentlemen's clubs of London and communities of greylag geese.

This last has little more purpose than to let us know he's a club member himself - and the fact that he went to the same school as Michael Caine (not to mention his fawning paragraph about Richard Branson) is similarly irrelevant to his supposed subjects, namely good and evil. As to them, he trawls through genetics, determinism, Darwin, Sartre, religion, madness and much more besides, in order to finally tell us that if we all thought a little more about what we did, the world would be a better place.

Not only incontestable, this conclusion is also bogglingly obvious - and it would bear more weight if Masters had done more thinking himself. This is a writer, however, who tells us that he finds the burning out of the Cyclops' eye in the Odyssey "unquotably nasty'', yet who can still give us specific detail on the Wakefield man who tore his wife's face apart with his bare hands, or the Californian killer who ripped his victim's nipples off with a pair of pliers. When you can be inconsistent like that, all claims to high intent fall away; evil's just an itch, all Masters does is scratch it, and for all the results are worth, Doubleday might as well have given us the splatter-pulp package.

Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album