I recently attended a roundtable held during the 7th edition of the Toulouse Polars du Sud crime fiction festival (9 October 2015), during which participants RJ Ellory* and Donato Carrisi** asked the questions, "Is evil external to the human condition?" and "Can you be born evil?"
While there is no consensus on our inherent nature, one may be concerned about man's genetic predisposition towards evil behaviors like selfishness, violence, and cruelty. Is evil inherent, or is it an unfortunate side effect of our society? It is understood that personality comes early and is influenced by outside circumstances and upbringing. We enter this world as innocent children. However, we all have the potential to descend into evil over the years. As Ellory puts it, "evil is an additive."
Carrisi looked no further than at a man who has been coined as one of the most evil men in history: Adolf Hitler. When you look at the popular photo of Hitler taken when he was a toddler, it is hard to fathom that he started off so innocent-looking.
Fortunately for the human race, only a tiny percentage of people turned out to be figures of evil or what one may call evil geniuses. Yet these people are subjects of our fascination. We are drawn to them, yet we can't really justify such attractions. Why is this?
Through his novels, Ellory touches upon the incomprehensible nature of evil, a concept that can be described and discussed, but never completely understood. Although we condemn rapists, thieves, or people who kill out of rage or jealousy, we can fathom the coherent and human thought processes behind such acts, for we too are human. "But why don't we understand pure evil?" Ellory asks. "It's because we don't really understand ourselves," he says in answer.
The behavior of the evil geniuses or less genius serial killers is seemingly inexplicable and without a coherent motive which we can relate to. Serial killers are driven by inner demons that even they may not comprehend. We are drawn to these killers, not really by disgusting morbidity, but more because we cannot understand their violence. We thus feel compelled to understand, and by doing so we side with evil. It's basic human curiosity.
Besides the killer himself, many of my characters in 'The Perfectionist' are linked to this fascination we can have in serial killers. I carried out some research into profiling and criminology. I even looked at some forensics science. But above all I looked at factual data about these evil men. Be reassured, real serial killers generally do not possess unique or exceptional intellectual skills (think of David Berkowitz - aka Son of Sam - who in the 1970’s, terrorized the people of New York City, murdering six people and prompting a police operation known as Operation Omega, comprised of 200 detectives trying to stop him before he could kill again. What caused his downfall and subsequent capture? ... A parking ticket!) The image of the evil genius serial killer is mostly a Hollywood invention - think of Kevin Spacey's character in 'Se7en' or Anthony Hopkins's Hannibal Lecter in 'Silence of the Lambs.' This makes the intelligence of serial killers a popular culture stereotype, but it sure does make great entertainment. Wouldn't you agree?
It is understood that it isn't intelligence, cunning or genius that makes real serial killers successful. No, instead, it is obsession, meticulous planning and a decent amount of cold-blood to operate, outsmart law enforcement authorities and to remain at large. 'The Perfectionist' takes all that and all we know about the serial killer persona and goes an extra step.
The killer whom my main character (Gerry Stokes, a veteran journalist working at the Chicago Tribune) tracks has flown under the radar for more than 20 years. His unique modus operandi and his inner demons or ambitions make him hard to fit into any category of killer seen before. In 'Level 26: Dark Origins', authors Anthony E. Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski explore this fictitious notion of killer classification. In the book, law enforcement quantifies evil and murderousness on a scale of 1 to 25, with naive opportunists at Level 1 and organized, premeditated torture-murderers at Level 25. However, the killer in the book is so awesome, that a level 26 has to be considered. The killer in 'The Perfectionist', meanwhile isn't subject to such classification because he simply doesn't exist in the eyes of the law. It takes an unfortunate set of circumstances and a lot of reporter's flair to put Gerry Stokes on his trail. My killer simply got unlucky.
Can the Perfectionist be considered the ultimate serial killer? You'll soon find out. Significant progress has been made and most of the pre-publication work is over. Finally, cover artwork is close to being finalized. All is on track for an early-2016 launch. I expect to share more news soon on this blog in the coming weeks. Additionally you can follow me on Twitter at @SimonGDuke and/or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/simonduke
'The Perfectionist' touches upon the evolution of the serial killer. And similar to the killers who are its messengers, evil has evolved too. It has become more cunning and comes under many shapes and disguises. But evil remains evil, true to form.
Dare enter the mind of the ultimate killer? 'The Perfectionist' is out soon.
* RJ Ellory's 'The Anniversary Man' has been released in France. French title: 'Les Assassins.'
** Donato Carrisi's 'Il Cacciatore del Buio' has been released in France. French title: 'Maléfico.'