17 June 2022

Review: The Killer Across the Table by John E. Douglas

The Killer Across the Table by John E. Douglas audiobook cover

The Killer Across the Table is written by retired FBI Special Agent and Criminal Profiler John E. Douglas and narrated by Jonathan Groff. During his distinguished career, John Douglas interviewed a slew of serial killers including: Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Charles Manson, and began trying to understand their motives. In working out what made them tick, how they selected their victims, what their childhood and upbringing was like and what drove them to commit such heinous offences, Douglas became one of the first criminal profilers.

John E. Douglas is a figure of great renown in the world of true crime and his work has even crossed the divide to entertainment on the big screen. Douglas inspired two characters from one of my favourite TV shows Criminal Minds (namely Jason Gideon and David Rossi) and it was Rossi I had in mind as I was listening to this. Douglas is also the inspiration for the main character in Mindhunter, another terrific FBI profiling show set in the US. Given his notoriety, I guess it's hard for the author to remain humble and the struggle is evident. You could argue his cockiness is hard earned and well deserved but his arrogance occasionally took me out of the cases I was learning about.

And then there was that gushing interview at the end of the audiobook. The narrator Johnathan Groff interviews Douglas at the end of the book, and it's the first time the two have ever spoken together. I found this very strange. Why wouldn't an author want to interact with the person selected to narrate their book? Wouldn't it assist in the creative process and make for a better end result? Nevertheless, the interview is 16 mins of Groff gushing and 'fan-girling' with glowing praise for Douglas that was enough to make me simultaneously roll my eyes and gag. As a reader, I dearly wish they'd had that conversation in private and then recorded Groff interviewing Douglas about the book!

The author's accomplishments speak volumes and his work no doubt laid the foundations of criminal profiling as we know it today. I'm sure his pioneering work with serial killers has gone on to save the lives of many potential victims. So why begrudge him a few bragging rights? Perhaps because the subject matter is so serious that when we glimpse his own sense of self-importance, it sours the experience. It's hard to maintain the admiration in the face of such pride and arrogance.

And where was the editor in this excerpt?
"If they had, his name would have almost certainly stood out. Not because of anything having to do with his purchase of a motorcycle.... But because Todd Kohlhepp was a registered sex offender and that should have aroused enough interest at least to bring him in for an interview." Chapter 22
Surely, if you're writing about heinous crimes and paedophiles, you'd avoid using the word arouse in the same sentence. Wouldn't you? This lack of attention to detail and indulgence shown to the author somewhat lessened my enjoyment of his book.

The Killer Across the Table covers four cases: Joseph McGowan, Joseph Kondro, Donald Harvey and Todd Kohlhepp and thankfully takes great pains to ensure no glorification whatsoever of the crimes or the perpetrators. Victims are treated with respect and reverence as the cases are broken down by Douglas. It was frightening how ordinary these men were - one a high school teacher, another was a hospital orderly - yet their ability to fit in to society in order to continue carrying out their crimes was the stuff of nightmares.

The Killer Across the Table by John E. Douglas is recommended for true crime readers and those with an interest in psychology, criminal psychology, profiling and criminal profiling.

My Rating:

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