Renowned G-man Douglas, originator of the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit, offers his fourth collaboration with co-author Olshaker (Obsession, 1998, etc.), a dense admixture of profiling theory, grim criminal history and cautionary admonishment that, though at times unwieldy, adds up to an informative, provocative page-turner.
As fans of Thomas Harris’s novels know, Douglas’s essential thesis is that even the most violent antisocial deeds contain signature elements (as distinct from modus operandi) that allow investigators to construct the framework of what he calls that key question: Why do criminals commit the crimes they do? This technique creates the profile of an unknown suspect that often aids investigations with startling accuracy. Douglas recaps this theory more than is necessary. Fortunately, he also illustrates it with a plethora of actual cases, assembling quite a rogues” gallery: obscure serial arsonists, snipers, and spree killers, along with such media demons as Timothy McVeigh, Andrew Cunanan, and Theodore Kaczynski. Douglas is a good teller of gruesome tales, although he undermines his own insights by referring to his prey as pathetic and with sarcastic asides. The book’s strength is its arsenal of details and insider knowledge: we learn, for example, the profiler’s homicidal triad of early indicators for potential offenders; that the most violent crimes stem from a relatively small population of antisocial loners who are almost always straight white males under 50; and that such figures may be set off by a single dislocating event, often a workplace downsizing. Readers in such diverse fields as human resources and journalism may thus find this thriller to be quite useful.
Indeed, Douglas’s advocacy of awareness and observation, combined with his chilling accounts of criminal motivation, offer a valuable lesson to all in staying abreast of the unlikely but most lethal dangers of our society.