Archive for the serial killers Category

Evil at Heart: A sneak preview by Chelsea Cain

Posted in book, crime fiction, interview, serial killers, thriller, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Evil at heart

Evil at Heart is the new book by Chelsea Cain, due out this September. Here’s a hard and fast summary from the author:

Serial killer Gretchen Lowell is on the loose. Detective Archie Sheridan is in the psych ward, where he’s been for two months. Then bodies start turning up. Is Gretchen killing again? Is there a copycat at large? Naturally, there’s all sorts of gore and intrigue before we find out.

Richard Kunzmann: How is it different from the other two? What lies at its core?

Chelsea Cain: I wanted to explore the celebrity of violence – the way society tends to turn some killers into anti-heroes. So this book follows that natural progression. Gretchen has fans. She’s become a tourist industry for Portland. There are tours of her crime scenes; people wear “Run, Gretchen” t-shirts. She’s a star. Which doesn’t jive at all with the horrors that she’s committed.

Richard Kunzmann: How do you feel you’ve evolved as a writer over these three books?

Chelsea Cain: I’m more confident about just going for it, less inclined to question if That Could Really Happen. I feel more in control of my characters. And I think I’ve gotten better at limiting some of my more obvious narrative quirks.

Richard Kunzmann: Is this the end of the Gretchen Lowell series? What’s next?

Chelsea Cain: I just signed a deal for three more books with St Martin’s Press. But I want Gretchen to fade out a bit as we move forward, so the books become more about Archie Sheridan and Susan Ward. I never really saw the series as being the “Gretchen Lowell series.” To me, Gretchen was just part of Archie’s origin story. The thing that really, really fucked him up.

Chelsea Cain interview: Of crochet hooks and intestines

Posted in book, crime fiction, interview, serial killers, thriller, Uncategorized, US writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 7, 2009 by richardkunzmann

HeartsickSweetheart
In many ways, Chelsea Cain’s series evokes the same emotions as Jane Campion’s In the Cut – layers of terror and aggression complemented by a sensuality that is so out of place it makes things all the creepier. The main characters are Archie Sheridan, the cop that’s been hunting the Beauty Killer, Gretchen Lowell. When they finally encounter each other it’s not so much the gore factor that sticks in the mind. It’s Chelsea Cain’s success at making us complicit in the sexual obsession that binds these two people together.

We can talk about the things Chelsea Cain did which many other authors have done: studying journalism, flopping from one job to the next, not quite sure what she wanted to do; dying her hair various shades of LOUD; a stint as a PR director and falling hopelessly in love, in Chelsea Cain’s case, with the guy at the video store. Regular girl-next-door stuff, I guess, except, if you go further back in her history, you’ll discover that the macabre streak that runs through her work was already well alive in her youth. You see, Chelsea Cain used to be the neighbourhood gravedigger as a young child. Apparently she created a pet cemetery in her garden for her own pets when they died, then the dead birds she found on her way back home from school, and after that, when the other kids in the neighbourhood found out about it, for their dead animals too.

Me having trained up as a psychologist, and Freud believing that our personalities are set in stone by the age of three, I start our interview by asking Chelsea Cain what the one thing was that scared her as a kid.

Chelsea Cain: When I was five my dad took me to a children’s museum in Chicago and they had this life-size display of Gulliver tied up by the Lilliputians. It scared the shit out of me. For years I was convinced that there was a civilization of tiny people under my bed who would tie me up if I let my hand fall to the floor. But honestly, I was not scared of much as a kid. I had a lot of independence and self-confidence. Probably too much.

Richard Kunzmann: So what convinced you to finally move away from teen fiction and write a thriller? Did your characters come to mind first, or did you decide to shoot for the genre straight away?

Chelsea Cain: Actually, I started with a relationship. I wanted to explore the connection between a serial killer and the cop who’d spent his career hunting her. So it started with that obsession, and then the idea that the serial killer would be a woman. Not just a woman, but a knock-out – the kind of woman that scares the hell out of our culture already, without having killed anyone. The male-female dynamic would instantly complicate the relationship by introducing sexual tension. It seemed like a really compelling set of themes to unravel.

Richard Kunzmann: I see that the Green River Killer investigation was quite close to home when you were growing up. How did those killings impact on your choice to become a crime writer?

Green River Killer Gary RidgwayThe Green River Killer was at large from the time I was 10 to the time I was 30. It was huge news in the Pacific Northwest. He raped and killed young women about an hour away from the town I grew up in, and his name became a sort of code for Really Bad Things That Can Happen to You. So, if you were going to go to a concert in Seattle, your mom might say, “Watch out for the Green River Killer.” Or if you were going to take the dog out for a late night walk, someone might say, “Be sure the Green River Killer doesn’t get you.” What they meant was BE CAREFUL. He became synonymous with things that go bump in the night. You couldn’t escape him—there were countless front page stories. And I was aware, very young, that there was a task force of cops trying to catch him, and that really caught my attention, too. I liked the idea of this team of people working to keep me safe. So the character of Archie Sheridan definitely came from my feelings about that Task Force. He’s sort of my child’s eye hero.

Rather than your series being a serial killer tale in the traditional crime fiction sense, it’s the crackling sexual tension between Archie and Gretchen that’s carried from Heartsick to Sweetheart?

I wanted to explore it from the start. I was surprised when people started using the “serial killer book” label. The books are thrillers, sure. But I don’t think of them as being serial killer books. I mean, obviously Gretchen Lowell is a serial killer and she is in all the books. But the books are not about catching her. They’re about what happens after she is caught. The fallout of this relationship. They are, in their own way, more twisted romances that thrillers.

Your books seem to be doing for the genre what Tarantino did for violent films back in the 90s – putting undeniably funny situations together with horrific circumstances. They expose the absolute parody we’ve made of violence and serial killers, embrace it, and take it into a new direction. Is that a fair comment?

Chelsea Cain: I decided early on to embrace clichés and then I really made an effort to subvert them. My characters are right out of central casting. Cop. Reporter. Serial Killer. The ex-wife. The gruff partner. It’s all been done like a billion times. So I tried to challenge our expectations of these stock characters by making them do and say things that are unexpected. But I do think that the books have a dark Tarantino-esqsue humour. At least that was my goal. And the weird thing is that when I give a reading, I find that I can get a lot of laughs. Maybe it’s because when I’m giving it, I cannot say the line (about a corpse) “her eye sockets were concave bowls of greasy, soaplike fat” without smiling. And pulling someone’s small intestine out with a crochet hook? Come on, people. How is that not funny? I think you have to give the reader permission to laugh.

To me it seems that everyone has been so fixated on the torture scene that they’ve missed both the wider picture, and what actually made the books so horrific, namely Archie Sheridan’s own complicity in his victimisation. As much as we are taken aback by what’s happened to him, it’s made more grotesque that he’s still got a hard-on for Gretchen.

How screwed up can one man get?

Feel free to comment on this series of interviews, especially if you’ve read one of the books. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and we might get Chelsea to comment further.

Next up Chelsea and I talk about:
• Women crime writers and extreme violence
• Why women can’t get enough of Gretchen Lowell

Prelude: Chelsea Cain Interview, crime’s sickest author?

Posted in book, crime fiction, interview, serial killers, thriller, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Put your ear to the ground and listen to what people are saying about New York Times bestselling author Chelsea Cain, it’ll invariably go like this, “Oh my God, she’s the one who wrote that torture scene.”

That torture scene.

HarrogateIt’s a refrain I heard time and again as I made my way up to the Old Peculiar Crime Writer’s Festival held in Harrogate last July, barely a month after I returned to the United Kingdom from the International Cape Town Bookfair in South Africa. By the time we were seated for dinner in the Jupiter Room of the luxurious Rudding Park Hotel, by invitation of the publishers we share, I was craning my neck to see her at the other end of the table. It’s bullshit, I know, but the first thought that went through my head was, what kind of woman writes “that torture scene?” And what the hell does anyone write in this day of torture porn, which makes such a strong impression?Rudding Park

In other words, how sick and twisted must a person be?

If I expected the female version of Marilyn Manson, I was sorely disappointed. Chelsea Cain – tall, blonde hair, flashing eyes, not an ounce of goth make-up on her porcelain face – had her end of the dinner table in bloody stitches, entertaining them as easily as she offended their sensibilities. She tells a story aloud exactly the way she might write it in a book: macabre punch lines that give Bill Hicks a run for his money, swearing when swearing is fucking necessary, and all of it backed up with the vivaciousness of a movie star. And when they say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, they obviously never met Chelsea Cain. Never before was a person’s character so well complimented by a glass of burgundy. Chelsea Cain 2

Ok. So I exaggerate. Hyperbole is how I earn my money.

Me being me, and about ten of us piled into the back of a black cab much much later all of us filled to the gills with red wine, I pop the one question that’s been bugging me all along. And the moment I say it, I realise how god-awful juvenile it sounds.

I say, “So what’s so gory about your books?”

The car goes quiet. No one says a word. They probably don’t know what to say, because it probably sounds like a challenge, one crime writer to another, like it’s a damn duel over the grotesque or something. Then Chelsea picks it all up in that strong Portland accent of hers. “Oh come on, Richard! Are you fucking serious? Get outta here.”

I never was a man for social propriety and timing, which probably comes from all the years spent playing Dungeons & Dragons in my youth. The conversation veers a sharp left as our polite British chaperones scramble to find something else to talk about. There’s a collective sigh of relief when we play along: no blood on the cab seats tonight.

Yet, I felt dissatisfied. I hadn’t got my answer and now, on top of that, people had misunderstood my intentions. So me being me again, I couldn’t let the issue lie. For almost a year I pondered over it, during which time I picked up a copy of Heartsick and Sweetheart. I thought it best that the next time I pop the question, I best be informed.

And, by God, what a torture scene.

If you haven’t already, read my review of Sweetheart.

Sweetheart: A book that’ll have you sweating in more ways than one

Posted in book, crime fiction, police procedural, review, serial killers, thriller, US writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Sweetheart“Can you feel that your spleen is gone? Does it hurt?”
“Not any more,” Archie answered.
“I think about that,” Gretchen said dreamily. “Having my hands inside you. You were so warm and sticky. I can still smell you, your blood. Do you remember?”
Archie ran a hand over his face. “I lost consciousness,” he reminded her quietly.
She smiled. “I regret that. I wanted to keep you awake. I wanted you to remember. I’m the only one who’s ever been that far inside you.”

These are exactly the lines I’ve come to expect from Chelsea Cain after meeting her and reading the Gretchen Lowell series a year later: funny, sensual and intense, all at the same time. Chelsea Cain’s books might lack thorough police investigations, and the serial killer they depict does stretch belief, but few other crime writers execute their work with such flair. In fact, if the series wasn’t the parody it is – and I’m talking a hefty touch of Quentin Tarrantino here – showing up all the oh-so serious monsters that litter the crime genre today, Chelsea Cain’s thrillers wouldn’t be as wisecracking good as they are.Chelsea Cain

Sweetheart follows Heartsick and delves into the aftermath of that obsessive love affair between Detective Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell, the porcelain-skinned serial killer who very nearly tortured him to death. Our detective is finally out of hospital and back home with his wife and daughter. The scars are healing, his trusty sidekick Henry is keeping a close eye on him, and so things should be as rosy as that first flush after hot sex.

Except they’re not.

HeartsickArchie’s hitting the pills so hard his liver’s about to explode. He can’t look his wife in the eye because he’s too damn busy imagining sadistic sex with Gretchen. As for work … well, all of a sudden a fresh pile of bodies is appearing in Gretchen’s old dumping grounds. Just when we think Archie’s internal world can’t be wound any tighter than the noose he’s pulled around his own neck, Gretchen Lowell escapes from jail and shoots straight for his daughter.

Cain’s timing is on the money, whether it’s comic relief or closing a chapter on a real cliff hanger. Intercutting between the Gretchen Lowell escape and an investigation into the murder of a girl who could potentially finger a sleazy politician for statutory rape, the story keeps us flying downhill at breakneck speed. It’s fast-paced stuff, even if a few plot threads are left hanging, but my appreciation for the book has very little to do with any of that.

Central to the story is the seduction of Archie Sheridan by Gretchen Lowell. Despite the horrible trauma she’s inflicted on him, he can’t stop thinking about her. This is the kind of love story where you know the other person is bad for you, she’ll destroy your soul, but for some reason that’s exactly what you want. In other words, Gretchen is the ultimate succubus.

Layer after layer, Archie is wrapped in the soft velvet of a rapture he knows he won’t survive. Like Pauline Reagé’s O, he realises what’s happening to him, he can see the self-annihilation that lies ahead and yet he goes willingly. The master-slave allusion isn’t an unwitting one, but at times we don’t know who’s who, as Gretchen exposes vulnerabilities of her own. It’s Cain’s sensuous portrayal of this state of mind that is most gripping. As much as this story is a thriller, the taste that remains on your lips long after is not the violence and gore, but forbidden love.

Read this book to the sound of:
Alice Cooper – Poison
Lou Reed – This Magic Moment

Look out for Evil at Heart, the third book in the series, which will be released in September.

Giveaway:
Chelsea has offered to dedicate and sign a hardcover copy of Sweetheart for a giveaway. Leave a comment on the review or series and you’ll be entered into a raffle.

Interview with Chelsea Cain!

Evil at heartKeep your eyes open. I’ll be posting an interview with Chelsea Cain before the close of the week, talking about her books, her writing, and the highly anticipated Evil at Heart.

Check out what others think of the book at Goodreads and Amazon.

Review: Catch Me a Killer, Micki Pistorius

Posted in autobiography, book, crime fiction, Micki Pistorius, profiling, review, serial killers, South Africa with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by richardkunzmann

catch-me-a-killer An insightful profile of South Africa’s leading Profiler

Every crime writer needs his or her good sources, and this is one of those autobiographies by a top forensic profiler which is invaluable, particularly when you’re writing about serial killers in South Africa. The political and social landscape of that country are unique, and it is terrifying to see the kind of violence which that country’s apartheid history bred. When Micki first came to work for the police, South Africa had over twenty serial killers on the loose – if I’m not mistaken. For a country that’s smaller than Texas, that was a shockingly high number. Lucky for the rest of us, she became a big cog in the large engine that brought the situation under relative control.

If the rumour mill amongst some of the forensic people I’ve spoken to is to be believed, South Africa is now one of the most effective countries in apprehending serial killers. Its small size helps – serial killers can’t make a run for it as they can in, say, the vast expanse of the USA, but it also helps having one police force, and a tight communication network within it, which now understands profiling, and no longer treat this art as witchcraft.

This is Micki Pistorius’s much acclaimed autobiography as an investigative psychologist with the South African police service. It documents her involvement in the country’s most notorious serial killing investigations, and offers an excellent behind-the-scenes account of how, amongst others, Moses Sithole, the Saloon Killer, the Phoenix Killer and the Station Strangler were captured. Concurrent with the story of the killers and killings, Micki allows us a glimpse of her professional development, and the many hurdles she faced in the police service, particularly in the company of hardened and distrustful detectives from the various Murder and Robbery Units in South Africa.

Her biography is a raw story, nothing like the clean-cut profilers on television. She is a brave woman who faced things better left unsaid, and paid a hefty Faustian price for her success. It is a pity that for all her honesty about the killings and the murderers – even some aspects of her personal life – I was left feeling that I still did not know much about this remarkable woman. But then, she certainly deserves some privacy after such gruelling and taxing work.

A great big thumbs up for her meticulous and descriptive accounts of South African serial killers and the police work that went into catching them. Readers of crime fiction and students of psychology and criminology alike will gain a lot from reading this book. – Penguin