Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers - Michael Newton

Summary:  The phenomenon of serial murder has often been considered both the most macabre and most fascinating branch of modern crime and criminology.  Only recently have law enforcement authorities, psychologists, and scientists pierced its shroud of mystery to uncover the secrets, motives, and dangers of serial killers previously hidden in the dark.  The groundbreaking Encyclopedia of Serial Killers offers an unprecedented view of serial killing from ancient Rome to the present day, providing the most comprehensive resource available on the topic and shattering many of the popular myths about this most terrifying breed of criminal.  (Summary from back of book, Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  My husband, who rarely reads anything outside the realm of World War II accounts, recommended this book to me*. He read it cover to cover in a matter of days while I struggled for months to finish it.  This book is, as the title clearly indicates, an encyclopedia – a comprehensive reference on the subject of serial killers. It is fascinating, but emotionally detached and strictly focused on the facts of the situation -- the killer’s background, mode of operations, victims, and eventual capture, escape, or death. I think that someone who was truly interested in the subject, and in possession of a stunning ability to compartmentalize, would find a wealth of information in this book.  It is a meticulously researched and unbiased look at a terrifying criminal phenomenon.

What I found most interesting was the high incidence of similarities between the killers’ childhoods. Often the absence of a parent (most often a father), or the presence of an abusive parent or guardian played a negative role in their social development. Many of the male serial killers (and there are a surprising amount of females) were made to dress up in girls’ clothing as a form of punishment. It definitely made me think twice about how vital the presence of strong, loving, and scrupulous role models is in a child’s life.

I honestly don’t know what I was thinking, even attempting to read this book.  As morbidly interesting as it was, I kept having to put it down and take a step (or twelve) back from what I can only describe as the face of genuine evil, a staggering body count, and a callous disregard for the sanctity of human life. I’ve gone back to it a couple of times in an effort to finish, but I couldn’t stop imagining the real life 'monsters' that committed these horrible crimes and the innocent men, women, and children that suffered through them. I made it to the H's. If this book were written by a survivor or had some type of emotional appeal to it, then I might have kept reading in an effort to somehow give the author or victims a voice.  It wasn’t. Overall, I wish I could have finished this book, but I got to the point where I just had to stop. I now know things that I will never be able to forget, no matter how hard I might try, and there are just some things I don’t want in my head.

The Man's mini-review: I thought this book gave a brief but accurate synopsis of the individual killers (though you could probably write a book on each one) and the only reason I would give it less than four stars is because it is a little dated.

My Rating: 3 Stars (but just barely), For the sensitive reader: Thankfully, this encyclopedia only has two pictures of deceased victims (in the skeletal stage), but it is matter-of-fact in its discussion of truly horrific crimes. If I couldn’t handle it, you probably won’t be able to either.

Sum it up: A hard to stomach but fascinating and comprehensive catalog if serial killers throughout history.

*I feel the need to state my husband's occupation (a detective in our city's special assault division) so you don’t think I’m married to a complete psychopath.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've seen books with similar stories and I was drawn to them. But I've never brought myself to read one for the exact reason you stated "callous disregard for the sanctity of human life". And I'm also afraid that I would walk around in a constant state of paranoia trying to identify every potential nut case that might be in my presence! Great review.



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