Friday, July 2, 2010

Let's talk serial killers

I've never been one for a serial killer book. I'm uncomfortable getting into a killer's head, and most of the serial killer books do give us the killer's POV so we know who they are, what their motivations are. I've never been that curious, since serial killers are, despite what we may see in books, TV, and movies, rather rare in the larger scheme of things.

That said, I have read two serial killer books recently that I found incredibly compelling. Both were written by friends, in full disclosure, but I am always happy to be able to like books written by my friends.

Kevin O'Brien recommended FINAL BREATH to me at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop's annual festival in early May. He said I might like it because it has a reporter character in it, and since I spent a long time as a newspaper reporter and editor, I decided to give it a go. Admittedly, it sat next to my desk for several weeks before I picked it up, uncertain again about the serial killer theme.

I was wrong. Really wrong. The book is intriguing and suspenseful, and I found myself caught up in Sydney Jordan's investigation into who is killing the heroes she'd interviewed. She is a hero herself, having saved a young kid from a fire just as her figure skating career was about to take off. Because she was badly injured, she now has a limp and her dreams never attained. There is a subplot with her son, who is trying to find out about the previous inhabitants of their apartment, victims of a suspected murder suicide. All the characters come alive, and I can see why Kevin has been on the New York Times bestseller list. I am definitely going to check out his latest book, VICIOUS.

I met JT Ellison in Denver at Left Coast Crime in 2008. She's a vivacious woman with a wonderful smile and a warm personality. She's also a wine snob, which in my book is a very good thing. I had never read one of her books, although I'm not quite sure why, until I snagged a copy of THE COLD ROOM at BookExpo America in New York at the end of May.

I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but I did not expect a serial killer book. And a very good serial killer book. JT writes a series featuring Nashville lieutenant/detective Taylor Jackson. Even though I didn't read the previous books in the series, it didn't matter. I was quickly introduced to the main players and got little tidbits of background that only intrigued me to check out the other books. I love Taylor, she's a very black and white person, it's all about right from wrong with no middle ground. That said, however, she has a complex personality and mixed feelings about her parents and upbringing. Her fiancee, Dr. John Baldwin, is a profiler with the FBI, and in this book, we meet her new partner, Renn McKenzie, who turns out to be far more well rounded a character than it seems at first glance.

Taylor and Baldwin are hot on the trail of a serial killer the media has dubbed The Conductor because of the classical music playing at the very staged crime scenes. Young woman are being starved to death, the killer then has sex with the body, and then carefully poses the body in a way reminiscent of a famous painting. This is not for the faint of heart or anyone who's got issues with necrophilia, but I was pleased to see JT didn't shrink from descriptions that were necessary for the story.

Do you read serial killer novels?


JT Ellison said...

Karen, thanks for the shout out. I've been reading O'Brien for years, too... he's awesome!

L.J. Sellers said...

This is a great subject. The first two books I wrote were about serial killers, and I've read dozens of serial killer novels. Then I stopped. I simply couldn't take anymore evil for the sake of evil. And I feel guilty about it, because lots of my friends write serial killer stories and I want to read and support their work. Maybe I'll get back into them...someday.

Anonymous said...

I love serial killer books. J.T. Ellison is new favorite of mine, too (I whipped through all of her books last month. I can't wait for her next book to be published.

I'll definitely check out Kevin O'Brien next.

Anonymous said...

I love serial killer books! (Don't know what that says about me...) I have a book or two of Kevin O'Brien's in my "to-be-read" piles and recently entered a giveaway for the chance to win a copy of J.T Ellison's THE COLD ROOM. (I lost.) Maybe I'll have to pick it up next time I'm at the bookstore. Which I have a feeling will be relatively soon.

Suggestions: THE SURGEON by Tess Gerritsen & DEAD BEFORE DARK by Wendy Corsi Staub. (DBD is a companion book to DYING BREATH, but it can be read alone and is a thrilling read!)


David Terrenoire said...

I do read serial killer books, but it's not something I seek out. I had to read a lot about real serial killers when I ghosted Man Down for John Douglas, because he's all about that. I also read some of the books he was a technical advisor for - Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, etc.

What was really interesting was hanging out with John in public. We'd go out to get coffee and people, all kinds of people, would approach him as if her were a rock star. I had no idea.

Later, when people would ask what I was working on and I'd tell them, some of them acted like I was working with a Beatle. There was no predicting who. People who are seriously into serial killers are an odd and varied lot.

God bless 'em.

Chris Rhatigan said...

I'm with you Karen--not a serial killer book fan. In general, gory violence sort of bores me. I think Thuglit is on the same page--they don't even accept any stories about serial killers.

That being said, the two novels you mention sound interesting. I'll also plug for Joe Konrath's Jack Daniels series. Though it's all about serial killers, I think these novels prove to be funny, entertaining and suspenseful.

Karen Olson said...

Chris, these aren't really gory per se. But they are suspenseful. I do recommend them.

I didn't like the Jack Daniels series at all, and I'm surprised you like them if you don't like gory violence because I found them outrageously violent. I also did not like the depiction of Jack Daniels. Basically she's a man in women's designer clothes. She didn't come across to me as a believable woman character.

David, when I met Kevin O'Brien I didn't realize how popular his books are, either, since I'd never heard of him. But a lot of people read his books. A lot more than who read mine! He's also a great guy.

David Terrenoire said...

Thanks, Karen, I'll pick one up. Always happy to hear about writers I've overlooked.

becky hutchison said...

I'm not a big fan of serial killer mysteries. I prefer reading lighthearted, fun stories like your new tattoo series. That way I can end my day (or waiting time) in an upbeat mood.

However I would like to read one of JT's book since I'd like to sample the books of all the Murderati blog's contributors. I like that JT bases her books in Nashville, a city I once knew fairly well. And besides, JT just seems like a cool lady.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Karen--yeah, the Jack Daniels are outrageously violent... I kind of skim those parts! I like it better when he's writing from Jack's perspective than from the serial killer's perspective. Jack isn't always the most believable female character, as you noted, but I always took that as her trying to be part of the boys' club of the Chicago PD.

Karen Olson said...

Chris, a better woman police detective series is Alafair Burke's Ellie Hatcher. Her latest book, 212, is a great read, and Ellie is a believable woman and cop. Highly recommend it.