It seems almost serendipitous that in the week that my book The Jigsaw Man is released, we’re also celebrating the 30th anniversary of the film The Silence of the Lambs. Both the book and the film set a new standard for not only crime fiction but also our dysfunctional love affair with the serial killer. We’re both enthralled, appalled and excited by serial killers and even though we may not admit it; we all have our favourites. So, who takes the top four spots in my exclusive club of fictional serial criminals?
I first met the renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter when I was 14 years old. Instead of reading the required text of An Inspector Calls for GCSE English, I carried out my small act of rebellion, by reading The Silence of The Lambs. Thomas Harris introduced us to a man who we were not supposed to love. A man who enjoys a glass of Chianti with a plate of human liver and fava beans is not the ideal dinner guest, but there is just something appealing about him. Lecter may be a serial killer who cannibalises his victims, but he also displays a high degree of intelligence and charisma. Lester is a man who is able to dissect us mentally. He understands the workings of the human mind and he knows what makes us tick and isn’t that all that we want? To be understood.
The Poet is a serial killer created by Michael Connelly and who we first meet in his first Jack McEvoy novel, called The Poet. The Poet is the ultimate manipulator. He kills with an ice-cold precision, successfully manipulates us and he also quotes poetry. The Poet almost seduces us both with his dedication to his work and his ability to keep one step ahead of those who are pursuing him. The Poet is a man who can literally walk amongst us. What’s not to love about him?
The Talented Mr. Ripley had to make the list. We follow Tom Ripley from New York to Rome, Venice and Greece but it takes us a little while to accept that we’re following the steps of a serial killer. All of that glamour but so much murder. Tom Ripley charms the people around him and he charms us. How could we not emphasise with a young man who’s just trying to make his way in the world? Surely, we can overlook the murders, the duplicity and deception? The appeal of Tom Ripley is that we almost justify his reasons for murder and that is scarily irresistible.
Norman Bates is the serial killer that we never saw coming. He looks like your next-door neighbour. Norman is the nice man who would help you carry the heavy IKEA boxes from your car and offer to build your wardrobes. We genuinely like Norman and there’s no way that he would kill his mum; would he? Norman Bates is the perfect serial killer because he leads us into a false sense security and plausible deniability. Norman Bates is our first introduction to a killer who has a split personality, and he forces us to ask the question of whether there is good and evil in all of us. We can almost convince ourselves that the murderous acts of Norman Bates are not his fault and that we can definitely blame it all on ‘mother.’