RARA-AVIS: Re: Moratorium on serial murderer mysteries?

From: David Corbett (davidcorbettauthor@gmail.com)
Date: 19 Aug 2010

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    The strength of COLLECTOR and RED DRAGON (another Harris title, which I think is also an excellent representative of this subgenre, of which I agree there are damn few) are that they don't "explain" the killer's behavior, even as they present a full and vivid first-person account of it. We learn the killer's own justification and analysis of what he's doing, much as we do in THE KILLER INSIDE ME and other Thompson works, and that justification is just skewed enough to provide tension between what is happening and what he says about it. That tension, with the hyper-logical but still off-center observations of the killer, in the hands of a great writer, can carry a book. It's the killer's mind that intrigues us, not the killings, which is where a lot of these fall short. (I haven't read I WAS DORA SUAREZ yet but I can't help but think that Derek Raymond would nail this.)

    More importantly, perhaps, the really good books in this genre show how eminently human the killers are while still being clearly strange, and don't make them out simply to be monsters to be slain by the white knight. I remain chagrined at how many crime novels reduce to a retelling of St. Michael vs. Lucifer or St. George vs. The Dragon. (Or Dudley Do-Right vs. Snidely Whiplash.)

    So-called profiling pretends to explain, and though interesting for a few books as a plot device because the science was relatively new, it grew stale precisely because it put the behavior in a box and made it safe for the squeamish. And profiling, like a lot of financial planning, relies on what has happened before to predict what will happen again -- which is of course true of a lot of forms of inquiry, but remains the equivalent of driving down the highway while looking in the rearview mirror.

    David Corbett www.davidcorbett.com

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