“The Killer Across the Table,” by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, 2019, Dey St., 340 pages, $26.99
A penny for your thoughts.
What do you think about that? Is it enough: one cent for what could be incredibly profound, helpful, intelligent, change-making? Can we really put a dollar sign on what’s inside someone’s head? Before you answer, read “The Killer Across the Table” by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker. Knowing what’s in a murder’s mind could be incalculable.
“What was I thinking?”
You probably ask yourself that three times a day: when you lose your glasses, when you walk blankly into a room, when you do something wrong. For you, it’s humorous or self-chastising, but if former FBI agent John Douglas asks the question in an interview with a “monster,” the answer could stop a killer.
When he sits for the conversation, Douglas says “It is a verbal and mental chess match without any game pieces,” and security is of the highest priority. He has prepared for his sessions; it takes time to get a murderer to trust enough to talk to someone in an official capacity, and Douglas relies on past interviews and psychology to know when the killer’s telling the truth. And yet, even when lies are noted, they tell Douglas a lot about the personality of a man — serial murderers are overwhelmingly men — who’ve killed and killed and killed again.
This unique program started when Douglas had just joined the FBI and noticed that a criminal’s past reasons for committing crimes could predict future possibility of criminal behavior in others. He began to understand that while psychiatrists were helpful in crime-prevention they “had only limited relevance to law enforcement.”
That was when he and a colleague established and refined a protocol to build data that could ultimately save lives. Each interview, he says, shows him another side of a murderer’s mind, but there are three major characterizations that most motivate killers — “Manipulation. Domination. Control.” — and one “single word” that everything “eventually comes down to Choice.
If you’re a parent, or are prone to nightmares, you can stop right here. Authors John Douglas and Mark Olshaker are going to terrify you, and that’s all you need to know. You’ll sleep better if you choose a nice mystery instead.
If you relish cat-and-mouse life-stakes tales, however, here’s your book.
Ignore that the crimes committed were gruesome and terrifying, which may be a tall order here, and you’ll see that the killers’ attitudes are the feature and fascination of this entire book. The authors keep readers rapt through descriptions of interviews done and crimes that were committed, which helps to explain the processes used to understand the psychology of serial killing. Indeed, Douglas knows things about his subjects that they often don’t even know themselves.
Suffice it to say that this is chilling, and to be sure, it’s the stuff of which movies are made; in fact, Douglas has consulted on films you’ll recognize, works that keep sensitive souls up all night. And if that’s the kind of read you relish, “The Killer Across the Table” absolutely won’t change your mind.