Criminal Profiling and the Art of Fictioning the Facts

Criminal Minds
Tell me the story of a criminal’s mind…
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.

Whoever Fights Monsters
You may never sleep again.
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.

Mind Hunter by John Douglas
What really goes on in profiling?
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 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 Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010


  1. Katherine M. in Austin

    Sigh. More books for my TBR pile. Thanks for the recommendations.

  2. Gordon Bingham

    Myy wife, while a yound cadet in a law enforcement academy, was once given a tour of Death Row in Florida State Prison. One young inmate, quietly sitting in his cell, was able to capture the attention of all in the tour. Turned out to be Ted Bundy.

  3. L L

    Interesting post

  4. Karen Barnett

    I’m a big fan of Criminal Minds so post is fascinating.

  5. Jeana

    Why haven’t I heard of these? Adding them to my to be read list. Thanks.

  6. Bob Keck

    Please count me in – I love great crime fiction.

  7. Joshua Atkins

    I would love to win a copy of Three Graves Full. Thanks for the giveaway Jamie!

  8. Vicky Boackle

    this looks terrific.

  9. Mary Menzel

    I have read every true crime book I could get my hands on over the last 30 years including these. I’ve already read your book so I won’t take someone else’s chance to win it but just wanted to let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Very different and fresh idea…. something the mystery genre always needs. Look forward to many more from you!

  10. Margot Core

    I think you just gave chilling meaning to the phrase ‘within mind’s reach’ – yike!

  11. Marie-Louise Molloy

    [b]This would be a thrilling chill to win!![/b]

  12. Andrew Kuligowski

    I think if there were as many serial killers are there are novels, movies, and tv series about them, there wouldn’t be anyone else left TO kill!! Grounding in reality usually makes a story much more entertaining. And believable. And chilling.

  13. mosaix

    Profilers – Can’t live without them! -Yes!

  14. Bob Alexander

    I hate the tv show. But the behavior analysis developed by the “real” FBI is absolutely fascinating.

  15. Max Cage

    It’s a fascinating science. I have always really enjoyed profilers in fiction.

  16. Charlee Griffith

    O.o These look good!

  17. Anita Yancey

    I really love crime novels. Thanks for this chance.

  18. michael Lomazow

    reading raves about this book.would love to read it.

  19. Joyce Mitchell

    I love Criminal Minds – thanks for the interesting post & the chance to win.

  20. Clydia DeFreese

    I may be the only “ordinary” reader in the mix. No philosopher or psychologist….I read what I enjoy….and discard what I don’t. Life has gotten simpler, since I’ve gotten older! So probably I don’t enjoy
    “true crime”. I’m a “pretender!” My stories have to end happily. The world has enough cruelty; I don’t want to read about it.

  21. ellie

    A fascinating giveaway. I would find this compelling and enjoy it. Many thanks.

  22. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read this book.

  23. amy mcdermott

    Fantastic giveaway, thanks!



  25. Deborah Dumm

    These books sound like they would be great to read!!! Can’t wait to read them!!!! Thank You!!!

  26. Donald Hornbaker

    I Would love to win this!!

  27. Kristen Heyl

    These books look great! I would love to win them…thanks for the giveaway.

  28. vicki wurgler

    thanks a humorous crime novel sounds great

  29. Andrew Beck

    True crime is a marvelous thrilling genre! They make for great reads!

  30. Kyle Quandt

    Great giveaway. I would sure enjoy this.

  31. Allison Moyer

    I never thought about it that way before, but you’re right. Every good story has a criminal. There must be an antagonist to every protagonist. Interesting…. Thanks for the giveaway!

  32. John Maline

    These should make for some creepy reading!

  33. Daniel Morrell

    sounds interesting and would love to read it

  34. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  35. Jody Darden

    I remember reading an article on Harris’ inspiration for the Lecter series. Those books could be an interesting follow up.
    Three Graves Full sounds good!

  36. lynette barfield

    Add me to the list to win. Sounds great.

  37. Phoenix

    Thanks for the interesting post.

  38. Phoenix

    For some reason none of my comments are posting today, but I’m trying again, as this looks like an interesting book!

  39. shawn manning

    sounds like a good premise.

  40. Steven Wilber

    Sound interesting

  41. Valerie Taylor Mabrey

    This sounds great
    vmkids3 at msn dot com

  42. Karen Cherubino

    Checked B&N for the back cover blurb of Three Graves Full – sounds really interesting and would like the opportunity to read it. Don’t understand the need to change criminal profiling to offender profiling!

  43. matt lehman

    looks good

  44. Tricha Leary

    sounds fantastic

  45. Karen Terry

    I would love to win.

  46. Jason Nickolay

    I love a good crime thriller! Thanks for the chance

  47. Ed Nemmers

    I would love to read “Mind Hunter”!

  48. Jaclyn Reynolds

    Would love to read this!

  49. Debra Kidle

    Please enter me, this is an interesting read!

  50. kathy pease

    Thank you for the great giveaway please count me in 🙂

  51. Sally

    This sounds like a book I would like to read. Truth can be stranger than fiction. Hope I win a copy.

  52. Kat Emerick

    Thank you for a chance of winning! I love your site!

  53. Sallie Dumigan

    Sounds interesting. Hope I win a copy. Thanks for the opportunity.

  54. LeAnn Knott

    Looks like a great book to get lost in! Once I start a Crime book I have a hard time putting it down!!!

  55. Susan Smoaks

    i would love to read this

  56. David Kidle

    I want to read this, thanks for the chance!

  57. Shirley Zolenski

    I would love this. Thanks

  58. Barbara Ryan

    These crime books look like something I could dive into and get lost. Thank you

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