As far as I can tell, most stories are crime stories. Sure, there are some romances where nothing but hearts are stolen, and you can get a good way through the picture book section of the library before somebody does something bad, but crime as the catalyst for an interesting tale is the shortest distance between two covers.
So in most stories we’ll have a cast of remarkable (or even unremarkable) innocents; people who are just going about their business until life suddenly goes off the rails because someone has colored outside the lines – aggressively.
If nearly every fiction has a crime, and every crime has its criminal, then by the transitive property, criminals are the hingepins of storytelling.
And as art most surely imitates life, there is a very real, but blurry place where facts are honed by fiction and fiction helps makes sense of the facts – Criminal Profiling, or by its more neutral new tag, Offender Profiling.
In the mid-1990’s I came across two books that reshuffled the ratio of my fear and curiosity to the great-deal-of-not-thinking-about-it that I had been doing up until then. The first of these was Robert Ressler’s Whoever Fights Monsters, in which Mr. Ressler details how he propelled and refined the art-science of criminal profiling with his colleagues in the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI. His pet project was to compile as much information as could be gleaned from a long list of incarcerated murderers, rapists, arsonists, and thieves. If that sparkles familiar in the back of your mind, that’s because author Thomas Harris ran across this story and used it for inspiration. It’s the errand that puts Clarice Starling within mind’s reach of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.
Whoever Fights Monsters is utterly riveting, and endlessly disturbing.
Ignited by a glimpse into the possibilities of intuition and educated guesses as actual and viable weapons in the war on, well, monsters, I snatched up the next available volume of related insight. Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crimes Unit is by Ressler’s erstwhile co-worker and heir apparent, John Douglas. The book details his many high profile hunts for the likes of the Green River Killer and his development of the profile that helped net the Atlanta child murderer in the early 80s. John Douglas happened also to capture the imagination of Thomas Harris for his series featuring Hannibal Lecter: the lauded white hat in the books, Jack Crawford, was drawn from John Douglas’ meteoric rise in the Bureau.
These two books became the yardstick for how I measured all subsequent crime fiction – hardback, paperback, small screen, silver screen. These men and their colleagues studied where they could, then reached past the end of what was certain to make fiction a tool to get to the truth. They weren’t the first of their kind, but the alchemy of right time and right place made their experiences and their ability to explain them a platform for laymen to appreciate. For me, it was no longer any good to tell me that something happened, then the next thing happened, then a car chase, a foot race, bang, bang, “You have the right to remain silent…,” The End. You had to tell me why, or at least try to make me understand. If thoughtful guessing was good enough for the FBI (and sometimes even producing results) then it was how it should be done.
For me and for many, from then on, the mysteries of law enforcement’s softer sciences have had almost a talismanic effect. If we can categorize and label what is in us and not in them (or vice versa) maybe we’ll be safe. Or safe-ish. What we know now, or at least think we know (or what we’ll admit is just our best guess at the moment) helps us construct a largely fictional why to what the physical evidence reveals about crimes.
Forensic psychology, statement analysis, and the dissection of body language for micro-expressions are all fictions of a sort. The Internet and your local bookstore can make you if not an expert, then at least a thoughtful customer and critic. My suggestion, though, is that you start with Messieurs Ressler and Douglas.
This sweepstakes has ended. For current opportunities, check our Sweepstakes feature page.
To enter for a chance to win one of three hardcover copies of Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason, make sure you’re a registered member of the site, and then simply leave a comment below. TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In! NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, fill out entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2013/03/criminal-profiling-and-art-of-fictioning-the-facts-jamie-mason-serial-killers-fbi-three-graves-full beginning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time (ET) March 15, 2013. Sweepstakes ends at 9:59 a.m. ET on March 22, 2013 (the “Promotion Period”). Void outside of the 50 US and DC and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules at https://www.criminalelement.com/page/official-rules-three-graves-full-sweepstakes. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010