Review: My Daddy is a Hero by Lena Derhally

Review: My Daddy is a Hero by Lena Derhally
My Daddy is a Hero by Lena Derhally

Published by Tantor Audio on April 14, 2020
Genre: True Crime
Format: ARC, Audiobook

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I received an advance copy of this book from

A husband. A father. A killer.

Chris Watts was a family man. Everybody, including his family, believed that. Yet, on August 13, 2018, he murdered Shanann, his pregnant wife, and two young daughters, burying Shanann and their unborn son in a shallow grave and dumping their daughters’ bodies in separate oil tanks.

As terrible as his story is, it is also a warning because, to this day, living behind bars, Watts is still acting out the character traits that made him kill in the first place.

In this, the first and only psychological exploration of the Watts family murders, psychotherapist Lena Derhally has pieced together the crime, the events leading to it, and most of all, her beliefs about the “why,” including the fact that Chris Watts—now a self-described “man of God”—is not in the least remorseful about killing his family.

Using police discovery and other sources, Derhally recreates the night of the murders and the investigation that followed. She explores the childhoods, families of origin, meeting, and early relationship of Shanann and Chris Watts. She also examines Watts’s double life and duplicity regarding his well-publicized affair with a co-worker, who, although she claimed their affair was casual, was searching online for wedding dresses at the time of the murders.

The book includes an in-depth look at community psychopaths, the different subtypes of narcissism, how to prevent this type of violence, and interviews with a neuroscientist, a criminal psychologist, and a journalist in order to determine what in Watts's twisted makeup allowed him to hide who he really is for so long. Using her knowledge of attachment theory, Imago relationship theory, and psychopathology, Derhally draws a profile of the real Chris Watts and--just as important--she warns readers that he is still a danger today.

Coming off my recent read of The Perfect Father, which also covers the murder case of Shanann Watts and her children–Bella, Celeste, and unborn Nico–I was hopeful that My Daddy is a Hero would do a better job of relaying the facts without blaming Shanann for her own demise. I’m happy to say that Lena Derhally’s book is an excellent exploration of the case. Part overview of the crimes and part analysis, psychotherapist Derhally presents her perspective of how a seemingly perfect husband became a family annihilator.

While My Daddy is a Hero summarizes the events leading up to and including the crimes themselves, the text stays away from the salacious details that many other outlets have zeroed in on. More importantly to me, this book makes it clear that the blame for the crimes lies solely with the murderer, Chris Watts. I’ve found other commentaries on this case focus too sharply on Shanann’s personality flaws, even to the point of character assassination and outright victim blaming. That’s not the case here.

Additionally, the book includes a significant exploration of the personality disorders that could have contributed to this crime (though the author is clear to disclaim that she has not treated the murderer personally, and so cannot formally diagnose him). Some of the topics analyzed include community psychopathy as well as narcissism and its offshoots.

If, like me, you’re always troubled by the “why” of crime, this book is a study in potential answers. While the crimes are discussed, they are done so with care and respect for the victims. I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking a deeper examination of this case.

Rating: 5 stars


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