REVIEW: Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, John E. Douglas

Wednesday, 21 February 2018


What makes a serial killer? Only one man really knows. FBI Special Agent and expert in criminal profiling and behavioural science, John Douglas. A man who has looked evil in the eye and made a vocation of understanding it. Now retired, Douglas can let us inside the FBI elite serial crime unit and into the disturbed minds of some of the most savage serial killers in the world. The man who was the inspiration for Special Agent Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs and who lent the film's makers his expertise explains how he invented and established the practice of criminal profiling; what it was like to submerge himself mentally in the world of serial killers to the point of 'becoming' both perpetrator and victim; and individual case histories including those of Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy and the Atlanta child murders.
Society has always been fascinated by crime. The spectacle of it, the horrors, the thoughts of so many lives cut short. And, for such a long time, John E. Douglas was a leading name in the field that dragged the monsters out of the darkness and picked their minds apart so that law enforcement, and society as a whole, could better understand why seemingly-everyday people do truly horrific things against their fellow man.
John E. Douglas has interviewed, and even been involved in apprehending, some of the most evil men in contemporary American history. And when I say ‘men’, I mean it, as most (if not all) of the cases in Mindhunter cover serial violence by men against women. It is actually quite sickening, the detail that the book covers and the names of all of those victims, and I suppose that the only comfort is that the methods that Douglas and his team developed, stopped a majority of these men from brutally and needlessly cutting anymore lives short. 
But when you take a step back and realise just how many names that death toll rises up to, it honestly feels like little comfort.
Douglas is clearly an intelligent man - he is able to get so many of these offenders to speak to him and spill the darkness of their souls - but, if you think of the career that he had for much of the 20th Century and the atrocities that he saw being committed against a majorly female victim-base, you would think that the way that he spoke of women would be different. His commentary on his wife, the other women in his team, the victims of the crimes - it only confounded the sickening feeling that I got from this book.
I applaud him for all that he has done for if he hadn’t, maybe the world would be an even more horrifying place than it is today, but that isn’t to say I like him. Whereas for a majority of the time spent focussing on his job, he came off as an engaging and erudite and cunning, when speaking of the rest of his life, Douglas came off as a thoroughly disagreeable man. And, if I am reading a book subtitled “Inside the FBI Elite Serial Crime Unit”, I expect the book to mostly revolve around the FBI Elite Serial Crime Unit and not what the man did during the Vietnam War, who went to his local gym, or the stepping-stones of his career.
If Douglas had stood as simply the narrator, focussing on the team as a whole and occasionally throwing in incredible insights relevant to the book’s subject matter, maybe this book would have fared higher in my estimations, but his overall aura definitely dimmed my view of the book and I simply can’t bring myself to give this book any higher than 3*. 


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