A Trio of Short Stories written by Edgar Allen Poe

“True, nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am, but why will say that I am mad?! The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute.” – Edgar Allen Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart.
Although I am a fan of Poe, it has been quite sometime since I’ve read these three particular stories. Written beautifully, these short stories of Poe’s always had an element of dark poetic justice for me. We have our three psychos, our three killers, who ultimately get their just desserts. These stories are like a quiet reminder that sanity is a fragile thing, easily broken.
The Black Cat
This story starts with a gentleman who was once kind to everyone. As the years go on, his descent into alcoholism and madness begins to manifest in the form of abuse of the animals that belong to him and his wife, especially the black cat. After one particular session, he takes the cat’s eye. One night he decides to hang the cat. At this point he still feels some remorse and shame for his actions, but still believes it must be done. After the deed and what appears to be pure coincidence, the house catches fire leaving a spooky image of a black cat burnt into the ruins. A ghostly presence at work? Poe gives a logical explanation for the situation, but by now he has planted enough hints that maybe all is not what it seems. Forced to move, the protagonist decides to find another cat like the one he killed. Soon he grows just as hateful of this one, building up to killing it, only to kill his wife instead. By now he is so far gone that he no longer cares and instead logically plans the disposal of her body without remorse. He even encourages the police to search, so confident in his cleverness. The wailing of the cat behind the wall is what exposes him. Poe builds so well on the superstition of black cats, and the tie to the supernatural that it even leaves the reader questioning if the new cat is merely a reincarnation of the old one, out for revenge. The protagonist never outright says it but all his own thoughts about the cat seem to go along those lines. We learn in the beginning that he is to be hanged, in the way he hanged the cat. I find it hard to sympathise with him, even though he blames the madness, and think he deserves his end.
The Cask of Amontillado
In this story our psycho plans his revenge on an old friend. The whole story begins with his promise to get revenge on his friend. Although we don’t know the methods or hows, we expect it. The story continues with the two friends catching up before heading to the cellar to drink. The mask of caring friend the protagonist wears is well made. We expect the revenge to come, and yet the character behaves concerned, caring, even insisting the didn’t have to drink. But once there, things take an immediate turn where he chains his friend to the floor and slowly starts sealing him into the room with a slow precision. Throughout this his friend is laughing maniacally, believing it to be a joke. This leaves the reader questioning who the mad one really is. There is no slow descent into madness, but we do know the protagonist lured him down there with a purpose because the supplies were already there. He is is successful in exacting his revenge. In comparison to the psychos of ‘The Black Cat’ and ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, we can question if truly is mad and is simply acting on impulse.
The Tell-Tale Heart
This one is my favourite of the three. He is aware of his madness, his disease, but believes it to make him surpass normal senses. The motive for killing the old man was his vulture eye, despite actually liking the man himself. I think with this one the paranoia of the evil eye drove him to watch and eventually kill the old man, but the paranoia of the beating heart he wont stop hearing is a manifestation of his guilt. But he is so lost that he doesn’t understand it as such. He doesn’t feel guilty otherwise, even inviting the police into the room. But he still hears the heart and tries to get it to stop, exposing himself as a killer. There seems a lack of awareness that what he is doing is wrong. Out of the three stories, I sympathise with him the most. He is very clearly mentally ill from the start.
And there you have it. Three of Poe’s psychos. I love the supernatural element that plays on our own suspicions and fears, on our curiousity of the freedom of doing something so sinful as the protagonist mentions in the Black Cat. His short stories are able to convey a chilling tale about the descent into madness in very little pages with a flair that I can’t help but enjoy.

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Batman: The Killing Joke – Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

 “Faced with the inescapable fact that human existence is mad, random and pointless, one in eight of them will crack up and go stark slavering buggo! Who can blame them? In a world as psychotic as this… any other response would be crazy!” – The Joker, Batman: The Killing Joke.

This is the first time I’ve read The Killing Joke and I was super excited when it popped up on our list. And it certainly did not disappoint. The Joker, goes for the most personal attack on Batman yet by shooting Barbara and capturing Gordon. He aims to prove his point that all it comes down to, to turning someone into a psychopath or mad is just one really really bad day.

For the Joker, that bad day came a long time ago when with the death of his wife and a heist gone wrong and falling into a pool of chemicals, he becomes the psychopath he is. Who can injure, maim and kill without remorse. But in a way I think he does it for the attention. His bond with Batman is his motive, and he wants to show Batman that they are the same, he wants Batman to notice him and respond. Maybe even deep down he wants to be stopped. He seems hellbent on ruining someone else’s life as much as they have ruined his. He easily ruins Barb’s by paralyzing her and Gordon’s by humiliating him and forcing him to see images over and over again of a bleeding naked Barb. And yet, it doesn’t affect Gordon the way he wants. So does it really all come down to one bad day or differences in will? It might do if it happened long enough ago that it can fester like a wound on the soul, slowly driving him mad (and of course I’m sure the chemicals helped with addling his brain too). But I don’t think it’s all down to just one bad day, rather a building up of events.

Aside from his motives, his plot to drive Batman as mad as him is executed with careful planning. There is no doubt that it is a very well-thought out plan of psychological destruction. It got the response the Joker wanted from Batman, although I can’t help thinking that it was an intention to push Batman to far across the line and to finally get Batman to kill him so he doesn’t have to live with his madness anymore. But Batman would have to be a complete psycho himself to cross that line, which I don’t think he is. Batman may not be the sanest super hero, he has his own bad day from the past, but he still cares too much foe me to consider him a true psychopath. He does however, admit that one day one of them will have to kill the other because they won’t stop. Yes, I can see him killing the Joker in self-defence or in defence of the city, but like most heroes, he has a code and whether he breaks that or not is another matter.

This comic was just beyond amazing. It was beautifully executed and written and illustrated. There are so many quotes from the Joker, mad as he is, that make far too much sense in the real world, and that in itself is the beauty of this comic. Knowing what in the real world could finally drive someone to have that break and snap. I think that Batman has that final chuckle at the end, finally laughing because he knows the Joker is right and maybe he is as mad as the Joker, just on a different path.

 

Joyride – Jack Ketchum

“The guns said so. And what the guns said was always right. It was the way of the world. The hero in him had died long ago. Rest in peace.” – Lee, Joyride.

This book was an intense read and definitely not what I thought to expect from a book with the title “Joyride”. It was a read that keeps you on the edge of your seat through the whole chase. We have our main characters, the rich, abused housewife, Carole and her lover Lee. We have the cop on her case who moves to the bigger case, Rule, and we have our psychopath, Wayne.
What fascinated me was the fact that we start with two people who aren’t psychopaths plotting a murder. We can easily sympathize with Carole and her desire to kill Howard, her abusive ex husband. We can even understand Lee’s desire for revenge for what Howard has done to Carole. But not once do we think that Lee and Carole are crazy or insane for killing someone. Because we see their point of view and we see Howard as a bad person, we support their actions and the murder is ok. In a way it testes the readers idea of justice, Howard has done actual bad things, he can’t be stopped unless he dies. So we accept that. Carole and Lee aren’t crazy, but good people forced to do a bad thing. A bad man pushed them to it.
On the otherhand we have Wayne, who keeps a book of all the “wrongs” people have done to him over the years. The people in his book have a build up of petty actions that have angered Wayne, year after year and he has kept track of every single thing. By those standards, could the people in his book have done the same level of wrong as Howard? Do they deserve death? Of course not, because we don’t sympathize with Wayne. He has the same drive to kill, but we know his reasons are wrong. He is doing it for pleasure, for the rush and enjoyment. The wrongs these people have enacted towards him don’t tally up to deserving death by our standards. And yet Howard does. He may have grievances and family issues in the past that have made him the way he is, an alcoholic father and abusive mother, but there’s not enough information there to make us feel sorry for him, but is he not also a victim of years of abuse just like Carole? Finally snapping and committing murder.
Then he goes on his wild killing spree. Unlike our previous psychopaths, he is destructive. He hasn’t planned his kills. He is literally driving along and picking people off. He has the sense to try and change his M.O. but that’s it. I get the sense throughout that he knows he is going to die. He believes he is “helping” the people he kills within those days, but he seems to be seeking that help of ascension himself. Like Travis in Taxidriver, he has no intention of coming out of this alive. But unlike Travis, his actions arent set against those who deserve to die. His actions have us rooting for the cops to catch him, before he can kill more innocent people.
Then we have our cop, Rule. He has his own issues and hang ups, enough to make him an interesting character in his own right and not just a long arm of the law. His revelation in the end that he found the case personal because he saw himself in Wayne serves to remind us of the thin line, the different types of actions that can lead us down different paths. Rule is unable to bring himself to form healthy relationships and he hurts the people closest to him, yet tries to redeem himself by saving peoples lives. Wayne feels just as alienated and unable to form bonds and ultimately his desire for companionship and someone who understands leads him to kidnapping Carole and Lee. Two very different ways of dealing with their issues. Ultimately Wayne, our crazed mass murderer has a lot in common with the people we see as the heroes of this story. He serves as a great representation of the path they could be on had their choices lead them there.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about knowing all the details of every victim of Wayne’s. Especially the strangers. It felt almost too much like a tactic to garner sympathy for the victims from the reader. But I think we already would have sympathised with them and it wasn’t necessary. In a way I would have liked to know more about what his neighbours did to get into his book and “deserve” to die. But overall, it was a great read that kept me turning pages.

Se7en – David Fincher

“Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.” I agree with the second part.”– Will Somerset, Seven.
This movie was beyond amazing! I had never seen it before and it was full of thrills and chills. We are thrown right into the action with the first killing. The tension and build up around the killings based on the deadly seven sins is a stroke of genius. Not only does the killer have to be creative to fit the killings to each sin, but we are given a timeline of seven days. Putting the new to town detective Mills (Brad Pitt), an excited, cheerful guy, with the world weary, ready-to-retire experienced detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman) on the clock to catch this guy, despite their very opposite personalities. Refusing to work together at first, the soon realize they need each other on this case.
This movie has to have the longest chase scene I have ever watched. And what amazed me about it was how stragically they had the killer’s face placed in shadow throughout. And it finally cumultes in the scene with the gun pointed at detective Mills. I genuinely thought that that was the end of the line for him and all the heartwarming scenes with his secretly pregnant wife and dogs comes to bear. He is facing death. And then he isn’t. He lets Mills go. This act of mercy isn’t returned at the end but is instead replicated when it’s Mills on the otherside of the gun.
The heartwarming scene where Mills and Somerset are having dinner at Mills house provides a light-hearted reprieve from the tension of the rest of the film. While I think the majority of the scenes with Mills’ wife are used to set him up as a great guy and make us far more sympathetic to his actions in the end. When the serious Somerset finally cracks a smile and laughs, it’s infectious, not just for Mills and his wife, but us too. It’s the almost hysterical laughter of one who hasn’t had a reason to laugh in a long time and it all builds up until it finally breaks. Much like the rest of the film and the build up to that final thrilling scene.
Throughout the second half of the film we know who the killer is although we know nothing about him. Kevin Spacey makes an excellent psychopath if I do say so. We see him briefly as the photographer and only learn as much as the detectives, who don’t even learn his name and refer to him as John Doe. The apartment of the killer, John, fits the bill, complete with red cross hanging over the bed signifying the link of the seven deadly sins. Along with the gruesome trophies he kept from his appropriate punishments. He takes pleasure in killing so clearly and even more so in tormenting the detectives. That final scene with the delivery of Mills’ wife’s head to the middle of nowhere is so well thought out. Simultaneously dealing with the final sin, wrath, and provoking Mills to make a choice. One that will give John Doe a quick death, and put Mills in prison, or to let John go to prison instead. Ultimately, Mills makes the choice to get revenge rather than send John to prison. Playing right into the John’s hands and giving him what he wants. It emphasizes both the point the killer is trying to make, that we are all victims of our basic urges, and the point that the film is trying to make, that we are that one break away from becoming a killer ourselves. One viewing and it has quickly become one of my favourite movies.

Taxi Driver – Martin Scorsese

“Are you talking to me? I’m the only one here, so you must be talking to me.”- Travis, Taxi Driver.

Oh those iconic words that have been quoted by many far and wide who may have never even seen the film. Including myself until now. And from what I had heard if the film, I almost expected more from it. More crazy, more violence, just more. It was less than what I expected, but no less an excellent movie for it. Instead I found it be a clever, subtle film circling around the loneliness and madness of one man, Travis. He isn’t our typical psychopath, he does appear to empathize, especially with Iris and does attempt to connect with people. Compared to the bloodthirsty characters we’ve studied to date, Travis doesn’t strike me as being anything like them. Instead he seems to be reflecting the awkwardness, inability to connect with people and loneliness in the modern world and how the extremes of it will drive you mad.
His job literally puts him in the position of meeting new people everyday, and yet he can’t form any lasting bonds with them. He seems like a typical socially awkward guy with extreme insomnia. Even his first breaks into madness and the need to clean up the “filthy city” is relatable. Who hasn’t hoped there was some way to hit the reset button and rid the world of everything wrong in it? When he is rejected by Betsy for a mistake that could be made by anyone with zero experience with women or dating, we see a nastier side to him, but again, the phonecalls and the trying to reach her are no different to dealing with a persistant ex in modern day soceity. But he eventually gets the message and leaves her alone. Again, a relatable situation on today’s world.
But what really fascinated me about this movie was his connection to Iris. A teenage prostitute who keeps crossing his path, even in the big city, causes a change in him. Travis starts showing his more redeeming qualities, that eventually turn him from depressed, desperate loner into a hero. He connects with her and offers her money to get home, taking on a protective role. Definately not something you would think of seeing in a psychopath.While his rejection by Betsy and his descent into madness from lack of sleep results in him setting out to obsessively carve his body into a weapon and take down the politician Betsy is campaigning for, he ultimately doesn’t succeed. But mostly I think because his heart wasn’t in it. If he had tried hard enough, he would have killed rather than be chased from the scene without even withdrawing his weapon. Instead he turns that nervous break and violence to all the people that were harming Iris, turning him into a vigilante. After the attack, he is a recogonized hero and comes across Betsy again. This time there is a marked change in his personality. No longer is he awkward and lonely, the recognition fueling his very human need to be recogonized in some way. In a way, we are all Travis to some extent. Scorsese strikes again.

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Family Murders by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry

Wow, this was an intense read. I never knew much about Manson. It was before my time, and possibly not as sensationalized worldwide as it was in the states. Sure, I knew there was a killer/cult leader/psycho named Manson. But that was it. I’d never heard enough about it to be overly curious and find out more. So this was an eye opener for me. The full story behind the murders are far more twisted and crazy than I ever imagined. Up until now we have been looking at fiction. Yes, perhaps some of our previous psychos are based on real characters. But this is our first look at the real case of a psycho, or psychos, and I found it far more disturbing than fiction.
Firstly, we have our narrator. The opening lead me to believe that yes, I might actually be reading a novel, something based on the Manson murders. Simply because the descriptives came across as “flowery” for something supposed to be a police reports and evidence. I just wasn’t expecting things to be described the way they were. I was expecting something more like our Howdunnit book. Reports and facts. Nothing more. But I quickly caught on that it is a story, a story from Bugliosi’s point of view. And it was based on all the build up, the evidence, the scenes made up and pieced together from the witnesses testimonials. A story built on reality. Bugliosi, although a real person, did come across as a character. He told us what was going on. He told us what had happened based on facts and accounts, but occasionally he would give us a brief glimpse of his personal life outside the case, not something you’d get from a fact book.
And now we get to the psychos of the book. Manson himself is unlike anything I ever expected. He is persuasive, clever, charming, manipulative and compelling. He knew exactly what mask to where when it suited him, playing whatever role he needed and it was scary to see how many roles he could do. In a way it leaves the reader questioning whether, if they had actually met Manson, would they have disliked him if they didn’t know he was a mass murderer? Or would he have played a role so ordinary, one could think of him as an ordinary guy? While his main mission was “Helter Skelter”, that the murders of Sharon Tate and her guests were meant to alert the world to it and start a civil war, I can’t help wondering if that was a ruse. That in the end, if all this was to commit a big enough crime to get him sent to the only place he considered home, prison, for life. There is no doubt that despite his clear mental breaks, he is clever enough to put himself in a situation where he wins if he succeeds and wins if he loses. Maybe it was a ploy to get fame and his music out in the world? The mass following after his imprisonment, the fame given to him by the media for the killings, was far more than he ever acheived with his music.
While he may have been the puppeteer pulling the strings, the real murderers were his followers. Manson may have been messed up in his own way, but the Family was far more psychotic than him. They committed the murders, and they enjoyed it. Especially in Sadie/Susan’s case. Ths casual way she spoke of it and how much she seemed to enjoy it was utterly terrifying. It’s such a level of distance and coldness that makes me think of her as inhuman, lacking in basic components, such as empathy. She is a true psychopath, wearing just as many masks as Manson. The level of blind loyalty with which the Family followed left me with images of people in robes chanting in the dark in that Latin that they all seemed to know, or perhaps actual zombies the way they followed him. He knew exactly what to give them to entice them to his side, and in a way, it reminded me of a shrewd business man or the devil himself. But the fact that so many of them got off and went to live normal lives, as if they had never been part of a cult in the first place made me aware of their own masks. And just how easy it is for anyone to don many masks in their own lives.
If I had to take one thing away from this book that I didn’t expect to, it’s that police work is messy and unreliable. The amount of evidence lost, tainted and ruined was astounding, although I had to keep reminding myself that that this was back in the 70’s. And how the justice system functioned back then was more than baffling. The process of interrogation, the letting go of witnesses, led to more murders and problems. But one point that kept being hammered home by Bugliosi was that if the courts had only kept Manson in jail, heeded his pleas that he wanted to stay, then the 30+ people wouldn’t have died in the first place. And that begs the question that if someone is truly showing signs of a psychopath and already committing crimes, shouldn’t they just stay locked up? Overall, it was a fascinating read.

Misery – Stephen King

“In a book, all would have gone according to plan… but life was so fucking untidy — what could you say for an existence where some of the most crucial conversations of your life took place when you needed to take a shit, or something? An existence where there weren’t even any chapters?” – Paul Sheldon, Misery.

This was my first time reading Misery by Stephen King, and as a result, I had no idea what to expect from this particular book. And yet, because it is King, there were some aspects I did expect from his writing. The attention to details, the almost twist at the end and the chilling antagonist were all things I knew to look for and yet this book didn’t impress me as much as I had hoped.
We have our victim, Paul Sheldon, a writer who is trying to break into the mainstream writing scene with a new book. For the first time out of the books we have read, we are given the POV of the victim over a long period of time. We’ve dipped into the POV’s of the victims before, but only for that brief moment before they are killed. Mostly we have been in the POV of the person trying to catch the criminal. This time we are with Paul as he wakes up in Annie’s house, unable to move. Even though she doesn’t start out as an immediate threat to him, he is still trapped by the weather and his inability to walk. I have to say, this POV was particularly exciting. As he realizes the lengths Annie will go to keeping him there (I couldn’t help cringing at the maiming and “hobbling”), and desperately tries to find a way to help himself whenever Annie is out the house, you can’t help but be on the edge of your seat, hoping that Annie won’t come home, that Paul won’t be discovered out of bed. We root for Paul, we feel his fear and tension, and the walking on eggshells around Annie, never knowing what will set her off. His coping mechanism of imagining stories threw me off the first time we dipped into Misery Chastain’s world. Yes, it was a break in the tension, but I just found it a distraction when I was eager to see what would happen to Paul next.

Then we have our lovely little psycho, Annie. Our first female psychopath this semester and she definately does it well. At first she comes across as someone normal. But as the story progresses, we realize she is far more devious than we previously thought. To be honest, I think I found her more terrifying than any of her male counterparts. Our previous psychos just don’t go to lengths to craft the illusion of safety for their victims the way Annie does. With them, you knew where you stood. With Annie, she’d snap, and you’d never know when it was coming, that break in her acting as someone sane. The way she systematically and mercilessly kills that police officer with the lawn mower and casually cuts off pieces of Paul, because in her mind it’s the right thing to do. The plan to get Paul addicted to the painkillers so he is reliant on her is another piece of her scheming. I think I found myself just as on edge as Paul, waiting and looking for that break in her sanity that tells us she’s going to do something horrifying. And I wasn’t expecting her to have a history for it, but she did kill babies and others before.

The relationship between Paul and Annie is one based on needs. Paul needs Annie to be his legs, fetch him food, supplies, his medicine he’s addicted to and heal him with her nurse skills until he can get help. Annie needs Paul to bring back Misery desperately, her own obsession. It’s an interesting dynamic, built up on the serial killer being reliant on the victim and vice versa. It’s again one we haven’t seen before in our previous readings and when it comes down to the final showdown, I genuinely did not know who was going to come out on top. Expecting a King like twist, I thought it was going to be Annie. But nope. And then we have the end scene in Paul’s imagination of her popping up again. In a way I so badly wanted that to be real. But instead it was more a struggle for Paul to come to terms with his demons and lasting scars from the encounter. In the end he is still tied to her because of his reliance on her for so long. This whole book was an up and down of thrills for the reader and I enjoyed reading it.

The Silence of the Lambs (Film) directed by Jonathan Demme

“You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don’t you – why don’t you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you’re afraid to.”– Clarice Starling.
“Whenever feasible, one should always try to eat the rude.”- Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
Oh how I love this movie and how it just never gets old. I couldn’t resist putting two quotes for this post because there are just so many fantastically creepy lines “It puts the lotion on it’s skin!” While based on the book by Thomas Harris, this is one of those books that when turned into a movie, actually does not disappoint. At least not for me. And boy does Jonathan Demme know how to set the scene. At the start of the film, we have the lovely young woman running through misty grey woods to chilling music. Someone who is familiar with the start of horror movies or crime shows may suspect that she is the first victim and is running from the killer. That is until she runs up to the climbing frame and we learn that she is Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), FBI agent and the protagonist of this film.
Demme then goes on to make sure (rather obviously) how small, dainty and feminine she is as she enters the FBI building for the first time by showing us how diminutive she is in comparison to the hulking male FBI agents as she gets in an lift surrounded by them. By this point we get the picture. Despite being a kick ass female student (as she isn’t even a qualified agent yet), she is still feminine and trying to make herself standout among the other agents, and she does.
The way Buffalo Bill kidnaps his victims and the method behind it is depicted so well in film. We are not given any true hint at who he is or what he does. It’s not all laid out for us the way it has been in the books we’ve read so far. Instead we are fed every tidbit of information piece by piece as we try to figure out the mystery with Clarice, every step of the way. The clues all tie together to lead us to the killer and the addition of a countdown to find the killer with the kidnapping of the senators daughter has us on the edge of our seats. Suddenly everything needs to move so much faster. Buffalo Bill, the man trying to make a suit out of human skin, is one of the most interesting killers. His use of the word “it” when talking to the girls as a way to distance himself from his material and the attempt of the senator to try and make him see his victim as something else links together so well. The final clue of the moth in his residence as a signal to Clarice that he was the killer, the only clue that he was the killer, was his downfall. It was just so beautifully pieced together I could go on and on.
But alas, despite Buffalo Bill being the killer of the movie, he almost appeared in the background. He is the reason the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) needs to be there. And he is, far more so than in his appearance in Red Dragon, in all his horrifying glory. Anthony Hopkins IS Hannibal, and watching Hopkins portray the purely psychopathic doctor, as he lurks in the shadows of his cell, is hair raising. There is the foreshadowing of us knowing what he did by Starling’s whispered “Hannibal the Cannibal” to Crawford. His interest in Clarice and the exchange of information leads to Bill’s capture. Despite Clarice going up against Bill and the clock, Hannibal feels like the real antagonist here, even with his co operation. Forcing Clarice to relive the death of her own innocence through the killing of the lamb was in it’s own way, a form of psychological torture. He is after all, a psychiatrist. It his job to get in people’s heads. We have a sense of what he did, but no pure gory visual. He has a hint of violence as he switches from manic to very sensible and back again. That is until that hint of violence turns into a chilling escape using the face of a dead cop. The last time I watched and read the book was awhile ago and I completely forgot that he escapes. Despite Buffalo Bill being killed, and the case solved, Hannibal’s escape leaves a feeling of incompletion. The story hasn’t been tied up, but because it is done in such a clever way, I don’t feel cheated. And that final line of his “I’m having an old friend for dinner” and the implications of what’s too happen. Goosebumps!

Red Dragon – Thomas Harris

“In the green machine, there is no mercy. We make mercy, manufacture it in the parts that have overgrown our basic reptile brain. There is no murder. We make murder. And it matters only to us. Graham knew too well that he contained all the elements to make murder, perhaps mercy too. He understood murder uncomfortably well though. He wondered if in the great body of mankind, the minds of men set on civilization, the vicious urges we control in ourselves, and the dark instinctive knowledge of those urges function like the crippled virus the body arms against.” – Thomas Harris, Red Dragon.
This book blew me away just as much as when I read it for the first time eleven years ago. Although it seemed like an extremely long book to read back then, rereading it for the first time gave me a whole new appreciation for it. Harris seems to manage to do in less words what it has taken the previous authors we’ve read longer to do, that is take us on a thrilling chase after a seriously twisted killer.
Although we associate Harris with the creation of the infamous Hannibal (the cannibal) Lector, Lector is only a minor player in this book. He serves merely as a source of information and a possible lead with the letter sent to him by “the Red Dragon”. It may have been that Harris simply put him in this book, no matter how brief to rack up sales, but despite that slight appearance, he does serve a purpose. Our main psycho in this book is just as fascinating. We don’t learn about what drives him until much later in the book, but are instead left with the clues of the smashed mirrors, family videos and killings as a hint of what drives him. I think the connection between how he kills his victims and the rejection he received from the stereotypical perfect politician’s family his mother was a part of, all because of his appearance, was done very well by Harris. He gave enough clues to the reader without giving too much away before the big reveal on the killer’s childhood.
The psychosis behind the killers motives had me questioning his relationship with the blind woman. As he became at war with himself, I wonder if her kindness gave him something of a split personality. In all previous scenes there was no “dragon” speaking to him, but we eventually have that scene where he is arguing with himself. It was like a fracture in what I had almost come to expect from him. Especially as he winds up showing his vulnerabilities and saves the blind girl. It gives a lot more depth to him and one can almost feel sorry for him after his whole past has been revealed.
Despite Hannibal being a secondary character, what fascinates me most is Harris’ use of him as a an antagonist for Graham. They’re relationship is a curious one. And despite Graham being placed on the case to track another killer, Hannibal still feels like the main antagonist. He is always in Graham’s head and his psyche and character was created by the events this character experienced outside of the book we’re reading. It reinforces for me, as a writer, that we must always be aware of the lives of our secondary characters, even if they only have a brief scene and we reveal nothing of them outside of that scene. A past that isn’t mentioned can still affect, push and drive your characters towards goals that don’t even relate to that secondary character. Personally, I think the book could have worked with or without Hannibal either way.
Graham is one of my favourite characters. The journalist so clearly puts a question to the public about who the psycho really is, that it takes one to know one. The question is put to us as well, as the readers, about how much like a psycho you would need to think, to be able to get into their heads and figure out their patterns, and eventually capture them. We have all of this to ask ourselves about Graham and his own mentality, and it becomes a line of a psycho trying to catch a psycho.

The Sculptor – Gregory Funaro

“For like Michelangelo himself, his contemporaries did not have a name for what he really was; could not begin to grasp the depth of his tortured soul—that fountain of love and anguish, of beauty and divine insight from which his genius flowed, and from which his artistry craved release. Yes, they would think him a monster; would group him with other monsters.” – The Sculptor, The Sculptor.

I’ve always found statues to be kind of creepy, especially after the “Don’t blink” angels on Dr. Who. I’m also someone who routinely bumps into and apologizes to mannequins thinking they’re real. But this book definately left me not able to think of statues in the same way again. This book was again a change of pace from the previous books we’ve read so far. I found this book an easy read, packed with action to the point that I kind of felt like I was reading a book version of a Criminal Minds episode. This made it some what predictable to follow in the line of inquiry. We knew where this was going: there’s a bad guy on the loose, two people (who have a neat little side romance) trying to hunt him down before his next victim and then stop him (or do they?). It was easy to get into and easy to enjoy.
I enjoyed the constant links to the art and work of Michalangelo. It gave us a visualization that we could easily Google and see for reference the scultpures the serial killer tried to do. In a way, having such a visualization both added and took away from the gruesome imagery that Funaro was creating for us. It added by allowing us to see exactly how the sculptor had arranged these bodies, but took away for me because I just kept picturing the actual statues and not the victims of the story. But I did really enjoy all the research and theory behind Michelangelo’s work and how it aligned with the killer’s mentality. The POV of The Sculptor himself made for an interesting read. I couldn’t move past the fact that he kept referring to himself in the third person. It wound up getting annoying after the first couple of POV switches.
I absolutely adored the character of Dr. Cathy Hildy. She was a scholar thrown into this scenario by the killer. I enjoyed her intelligence and awkwardness. She is relatable and her budding romance with Sam offered some moments for big smiles or awkward cringes. This is the first of our set readings that has a sweet romance to break up the horror and tension of the Sculptor’s work. While I enjoyed the cute moments between Sam and Cathy, I think that’s also what made it feel less like a horror than the previous books we’ve read and more like a crime show. It felt like a sidetrack from the Thriller aspect of the novel, taking the reader out of the amazing tension built up for the race against time between the Sculptor’s work being unveiled.
I also found myself finding the situation at the end, where Cathy tricks the killer into releasing her far too convenient. It was smart of her to figure it out, but in a way the clues felt a little to obvious for me. And the way the book ended! I love that we had a happy ending for Cathy and Sam, but for the statue to appear and lack of body felt very much like the end of every horror. Just as you think everything is OK, the killer pops back up. I was having I Know What You Did Last Summer flashbacks at that point, waiting for the killer to pop up. In a way I feel a little cheated out of what I thought was going to be a happily ever after. But unless there is a sequel planned, I think that last statue was unecessary. Overall though, I did really enjoy this book and couldn’t put it down. I enjoyed the pace.