I recently finished two nonfiction books by John Douglas, a former FBI profiler. It’s rumored that Jodie Foster’s character’s boss in Silence of the Lambs is based on him. His book Mind Hunter details his history in FBI’s profiling unit.
While the subject matter is often morbid and sad, I admit that every few pages a real-life incident sparks a fictional idea in my mind. It’s not just the realistic killers, but the often innovative ways that they are finally brought to justice. For example, one of Douglas’ colleagues had trouble cracking a triple homicide of a mother and two daughters who were on vacation in Florida. The only promising piece of evidence was a note they found in the victims’ car with directions to the location where their car was found. But the note revealed little else.
The FBI agent blew up the note on billboards, with advertising space that was donated by local businesses, and asked people to call the FBI if they recognized the hand writing. Three people did, and they were able to catch the killer.
Before I read MindHunter, I got caught up in The Casesthat Haunt Us, which analyzes prior cases, such as Jack the Ripper, with modern profiling techniques. For example, while Jack the Ripper is often “romanticized,” (think suave sociopath), it is likely he was so insane at the point that he committee the murders he would have had difficulty carrying on normal conversations.
I think we’d all agree it’s more “fun” to read fictional mysteries. The evil killers don’t live in our world. The victims didn’t die, because they never lived. But reading true crime, while often disturbing, can also help you craft more authentic stories with more depth.
What about you? Do you have any true crime books you’d recommend? Do you find reading true crime helps you write fictional stories?