Back in October, I reviewed the Netflix series Mindhunter – the story of how criminal profiling began in the 1970s. The series was based on a book by a real-life criminal profiler, John Douglas, and ever since I saw Mindhunter I’ve been itching to read the book.
Mindhunter: Inside the FBI Elite Serial Crime Unit tells the story of John Douglas’ ascent through the ranks of the FBI, and his idea to interview real serial killers in order to learn how their minds work. Over a period of years, Douglas and his colleagues interviewed as many incarcerated serial killers as they could, asking them to talk about their crimes and what made them do what they did.
One of my pet hates with any book that gets adapted for the screen is when the adaptation strays too far from the original story. That’s one complaint I don’t really have with this book. So many of the memorable moments from the series were taken almost directly out of the book, including the disturbing scene where one of the interview subjects threw his pet bird into a fan.
If you’re a true crime nut, then chances are that what you want from this book is insight into criminal cases and details of the interviews with some of the world’s most famous serial killers. That’s my one criticism with this book – it takes a little while before you actually get to that part. The first quarter of the book is about John Douglas and his life before becoming an FBI agent, and he seems to quite like talking about himself! I know it’s an autobiography, but there was a bit too much detail about Douglas’ early life for me, I was eager to get to the part of the book where he began figuring out how to profile these killers.
Once I did get to the part, I couldn’t put the book down. The insights into the minds of some of the worst serial killers in history were truly fascinating, including Edmund Kemper, who was played so memorably in the series by Cameron Britton.
Douglas outlines the many cases he worked on where he was able to examine a crime scene and come up with an astonishingly accurate profile of the kind of person police were looking for, sometimes right down to the make and colour of car he would be driving. There’s no wonder that some sceptics likened the profilers’ ability to voodoo or witchcraft.
I’d love to see an updated version of this book outlining the BTK and Green River Killer cases, as both of these were still open cases when this was written, and, knowing how they both played out, I think he might have been a little bit off the mark with his analysis of the Green River case.
The tone of the book is inevitably less dramatic than the series, as it is just told from Douglas’ point of view, rather than revolving around a group of characters. But if you’re a true crime fan and you like reading non-fiction, then I think you’ll devour this book in a couple of days. As Douglas recounts case after case, you’ll find yourself saying “just one more chapter,” until you get to the end.