Forensic psychiatrist Markman (with the aid of free-lance writer Bosco) illuminates the minds and methods behind some of the most brutal murders ever committed in California, concluding that all of us are capable of murder. Markman opens with a chilling scenario: An upstanding Merman father stabs his baby son to death because he believes the film of Mary Poppins secretly instructed him to prove his love for God the same way Abraham proved his. The psychiatrist draws special inspiration from this obscure instance--both because it shows the sudden and arbitrary onset of psychosis, and because it shows the arbitrary and irredeemably crazy nature of the legal system (the young Mormon is now out of prison and raising a second son). Eschewing "clients" who have saturation coverage (the "Hillside Strangler," etc.), Markman sets out to prove that mental illness is not the cause of murder, although it has refracted murder into ghoulish forms. In one of the most harrowing cases of the author's career, for example, a young paranoid schizophrenic decides he must drink blood to keep his stagnating bloodstream alive, graduating from dogs to human beings, even a baby. To Markman's mind, the cold murders and rapes performed by a pair of sociopaths named Bittaker and Norris were more harrowing even than the Manson killings because Bittaker and Norris were so lucid; the pair enjoyed tape-recording their teen-age victims screaming for mercy, while, in contrast, Manson followers Tex Watson and Leslie Van Houten seemed like the kids next door, pushed to murder by a potent cocktail of drags and charismatic leadership. Insisting that murder flows from the self-preservation instinct pushed to the limit, Markman, who also has a law degree, struggles to expose a justice system more caught up with its own rules than with the nature of the crime. By turns horrifying, fascinating, and full of righteous indignation--and a forceful contrast to Joel Norris' excellent Serial Killers (1988)--which argued organic brain damage as a prime motive for serial killers' rampages.