Four reasons why books about serial killers leave me cold

June 19th, 2011 § 0 comments

I like crime stories and even write them on occasion, but I avoid reading books about serial killers and refuse to watch a minute of the TV series Dexter. Here’s why:

1. They put evil in a neatly labelled, sealed jar.

Stories about serial killers tend to do two worrying things: They portray evil as the domain of madmen (thereby isolating it from life as we know it) and they maintain that reason (the forensic scientist) will win out. Unfortunately, neither assumption is true.

I suspect the popularity of this type of story is based on the fact that they offer cheap thrills and discourage readers to examine the evil within ourselves and our society.

2. I don’t like spending time with sickos.

When you read, you spend time with the characters. It helps a lot when you like them. They don’t have to be nice, but they do have to have enough redeeming features so that you tolerate their vices. It seems to me that serial killing is a vice that would take an awful lot of redemption, more than anyone is capable of.

3. It taints the soul.

Horrors you’re exposed to find their way into not only into your consciousness, which is obviously a thrill for too many of us, but it also gets into your subconscious. One shouldn’t deny the existence of ugliness, but there’s no need to go wallow in it. The evening news is bad enough. I don’t want to dream horror stories.

4. It’s too easy.

The subject doesn’t challenge either the writer or the reader. The writer can trot out stale formulas, lay on the horror, and readers lap it up.

Good books about serial killers may well exist. At least one of Henning Mankell’s Wallander series features a serial killer and that was bearable, though not my favourite in the series. I also read a rather good book about a serial killer, Widow Killer by the Czech writer Pavel Kohout, though the setting had much to do with its appeal.

But to find these gems, I’m not prepared to wade through blood.

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