Review: THE KILLER ACROSS THE TABLE by John E Douglas and Michael Olshaker published by William Collins

Many years ago I came to the conclusion that I should only review books I’ve really enjoyed. There was a logic to that decision. Basically, since I have a real problem with diverse authors, such as Philip K Dick, Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson, my judgements about books are not, clearly, mainstream! However, my attitude is different now. Some time ago I made a firm decision to be honest when given books to review, because otherwise I am just an unpaid marketeer. I might as well not read the book. But in recent months I’ve come to the conclusion that I really ought to have the courage of my own analysis of books. People will probably not be affected in their decision to buy or not buy a book as a result of my reviews, after all, and there is some merit in putting my own views down. 

In any case, this was not a book given to me – I bought it. And I felt I had to review this honestly.

First, let me say that I do not know either of these authors except by reputation and from reading their books. Years ago – probably twenty or so – I read their first book written collaboratively (I think), which was MINDHUNTER. It gave some very interesting case studies: Ed Gein and Ted Bundy among others. It  was a very useful first view of murderers and how their minds worked.

For those who don’t know, Douglas was one of the first guys to start profiling criminals in order to try to assess who could be guilty of certain crimes. He set up the FBI unit that started investigating via profiling. He’s supposed to be the man who invented the term “Serial Killer”. And MINDHUNTER was really a fascinating book. Yes, it seemed a bit repetitive in places, and yes, Olshaker is a writer who is looking for the piece that will sell, but the two together did a good job. When I saw THE KILLER ACROSS THE TABLE, I was immediately hooked. I bought a copy.

I was not impressed.

It is repetitive, it is disjointed, blundering from one case with one criminal, and then rambling back to “Killers I have known” like an elderly veteran losing the thread of his war stories and returning to similar themes and similar situations before being dragged back to the main plot.

There are, I suppose, reasons for bringing up similar situations, but the thing that really got to me was, that it felt as though the authors were name-dropping. It goes from McGowan, for example, to Berkowitz, to Charles Manson, to the assassins James Earl Ray and Arthur Bremer in the space of four pages or so. It makes the reading really difficult. I kept having to reread paragraphs to remind myself who I was reading about this time. It did not feel coherent as a narrative.

And that is a problem.

The writing is racy in places, but for the most part reads more like a training manual for FBI staff. MINDHUNTER did too, but it was written as a more direct piece of prose. It read rather like a series of lectures (as, I suspect, they were originally). This book does not have that narrative logic, not for me in any case.

In short, I think this latest book is a means of capitalising on past successes. It is the latest in the Douglas/Olshaker collaboration. It is a brand that both authors have profited from, and obviously they want to continue what has been a very fruitful writing experience for both of them. And there is a market for “true crime” books of this nature. Many people are very keen to read the views of those with experience in this field. Lots of authors, like me, want to add the veneer of authority when writing about crime. 

I have no doubt that there is much here to grip readers new to this kind of material. However, I could not lose the feeling that this was picking gross, unpleasant murder stories to titillate and entertain new readers.

It’ll remain on my shelves, but this is not a book which justified reading more than the first 90 pages, and that was an effort.

Nope. Not recommended. If you are interested in true crime and want to get a real feel for things, I’d recommend MINDHUNTER rather than THE KILLER ACROSS THE TABLE.

One Response to “Review: THE KILLER ACROSS THE TABLE by John E Douglas and Michael Olshaker published by William Collins”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Another review…


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