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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Where’s the motivation?

One of my pet hates is reading about a killer who just, um, kills. There are no reasons given as to why he’s become this axe-wielding maniac. The reader simply has to accept that he has. Maybe he was born evil. We don’t know. We’re not told.

I like my own fictional killers to have valid reasons. The motivation can be lust, greed, love or a dozen other things. They can, after suffering years of some particular torture, be driven to kill. Or perhaps events during their childhood have damaged them beyond repair. Whatever, I need to know why they kill.

One of the most notorious killers in the UK was Harold Shipman. Shipman was a family doctor who, at one time, practiced about 5 miles from my home. (Yes, I’m SO glad I didn’t book an appointment with him. :)) He was found guilty of 15 murders and was believed to have been responsible for around 250 more. Many of his victims were elderly, most were women. He was sentenced to life imprisonment but hanged himself in his cell on the eve of his 58th birthday.

So what made this man a killer? Why, when working in a profession that exists to save lives, was he compelled to take lives? I don’t have any satisfactory answers and that really bugs me.

His family were Methodists and he was very close to his mother who died of lung cancer when he was 17. She was given morphine by the family doctor to ease the pain, something Shipman witnessed, and, years later, this is how Shipman killed his victims. He administered lethal injections of diamorphine, signed the patients’ death certificates and then altered their medical records to indicate that they’d been in poor health. But why? Was witnessing his mother’s slow and painful death reason enough to turn him into a killer? I don’t know. 

What about you? Do you need to know why a killer kills? Or can you just accept that he/she does?

(Oh, and don’t forget that there’s still time to enter our Independence Day prize draw. There are lots of books up for grabs, including my Dylan Scott mystery, DEAD END, that was released on Monday. All the details are here.)


BabsMcG said...

I prefer that there is some motivation other than the fact they are a total nutter, but sadly there are a lot of those about! I wonder if they ever asked Shipman why he did what he did. Maybe in the end it was just greed? Or a god complex.

J Wachowski said...

Oooo, what a wonderful mystery, Shirley. I can almost see him "killing" to save them pain or something. Twisted Kavorkian?
I'm going to have to go and look him up...
Meanwhile, congrats on the new book!

Shirley Wells said...

Hi Babs. I think Shipman refused to talk. I would have loved a couple of hours with him ... so long as he didn't have a syringe in his hand of course. :)

Shirley Wells said...

Yes, look him up, J. I hoped he was saving them pain, but apparently not. A lot were very healthy until he got to them. :)
And thanks for the congrats!

Anne Mackle said...

I do love to know the reason why too. Shipman may have started out trying to ease pain because he couldn't do it for his mother but I think power took over and the fact he was getting away with it gave him more power. His greed was what found him out and he altered a lady's will in his favour. His last piece of power was not to speak so none of the familes had any kind of closure and some don't know to this day if their loved ones were his victims.

Shirley Wells said...

Anne, I think the power went to his head. As you say, his greed found him out. And yes, his final act of cruelty was committing suicide without confessing. Awful for the families of his victims.

Maureen A. Miller said...

Congratulations on release week, Shirley! I'm so glad you didn't visit this doctor.

The closest we came to a serial killer was a male nurse who killed 40 people with lethal overdoses. One of them was our priest. Grandma was aghast!

Shirley Wells said...

Thank you, Miss Maureen. :)

Oh wow, a male nurse. It always seems far more terrifying when a killer is in a position of trust like that. Yikes. You should have set Grandma on him!

Marcelle Dubé said...

This is what always drives me nuts in news reports. We learn the who, what, where and when, but mostly never the WHY! Of course, reporters can only report what they learn, and I wonder if killers themselves always know why they do what they do.

On a happier note, congrats on your latest release, Shirley!

Rita said...

Congrats on the release.
OH! THANK YOU! I really do want to know what drives a killer.
I wonder about my own books because I don't go into the reasons why the bad guys are bad. But in Thrillers it isn't quite so necessary. In Stephen King's 11-22-63 he paints such a picture of Lee Oswald's horrid mother you can understand why is was a wacko. The human race is a hot mess.

Shirley Wells said...

Marcelle - Thanks. And yes, it's the same with news reports. As I I don't expect reporters to know too much though, they get away with it. I expect writers to know everything about their characters. :)

Rita - Thank you. I still have 11-22-63 on my TBR list and really can't wait to read it now. :)

Shelley Munro said...

Congrats on your new release, Shirley. I definitely want to know the why, otherwise the character is just a talking head. Even some of the secondary characters need motivation to give sense to the story.

Mike Keyton said...

It's the Iago syndrome. Critics have been discussing for years his motivation/s. I wonder whether where there is this blank the reader has as much fun speculating as in knowing why from the start?

Shirley Wells said...

Hi Mike. Interesting point. Perhaps there are readers who like to speculate. I just wish I was one of them. :)

Shirley Wells said...

Shelley, thanks you. Yes, yes, and yes. I couldn't agree more. :)

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