By definition alone a crime novel must have a crime, right? Therefore, we must have a perpetrator and a victim, or if you want to get technical, an antagonist and a protagonist. These are the three basic elements of a crime novel—just add blood and stir …
A crime from two points of view
What I’d like to explore is the two views of that crime, however gruesome, from our main players. The victim as witness, from the outside looking in, and the perpetrator, from the inside looking out. In most crime novels, the perspective, or point of view, will be from either the protagonist or antagonist, but rarely both.
So how can the one incident in time, the crime, be viewed differently by our two players?
Most acts of murder are deemed crimes of passion. A momentary explosion of rage, a violent act taken too far and ending in death; rarely they are premeditated. Technically, without intent, such crimes are deemed as manslaughter, not murder. However the more appealing crime story in the marketplace is in the premeditated discipline of murder, particularly that of the serial killer. So let’s look at our serial killer’s perspective first—from the inside looking out.
What elements make up the average serial killer?
We can consider the classic traits of mental illness, bed wetting, voyeurism, victims of child abuse, their foray into animal cruelty, pyromania and so on. But essentially, violence breeds violence, and it’s this that historically motivates most serial killers. This can materialise as psychopathic behavior including sensation seeking, impulsivity, the need for control, and predatory behavior, and always with a lack of remorse. Serial killers are centered, driven, calculating and enjoy reliving the kill as much as the kill itself.
What do they experience in that moment shared with the victim?
It’s the endgame, the violent climax of a macabre one-sided affair, the moment they had envisaged since they began stalking or grooming their victim. The thing that motivates them will feed off both the hunt and the kill. The method often reflects the killer’s traumatic history, often finding its genesis in the moment where they transformed from victim to perpetrator; a transfer of power, reversal of fortune and control. This act of murder is their reward, and when it’s over there will come a great calm, usually leading into a cooling-off period, sometimes lasting years before they begin the process again. They live among us, are adept at fitting in, and are sustained by the reminiscence of the kill, often keeping something of a trophy (an item of clothing, jewelry or even a body part). If all these elements fall into place, life is good for most serial killers.
But what happens when things don’t go as planned? What happens when their victim survives the endgame?
The criminal will see it as a failure, but the narcissist in them will blame the victim for the failure. After all, they had worked far too carefully on the preparation, were too good at their craft, to be responsible.
The victim however (from the outside looking in), is not so stereotypical, in as much as their personality and history can be so varied in comparison. Whereas the perpetrator has chosen their pathway, the victim has not, and is left with the aftermath of fear that comes with survival. Although the victim played no conscious part in this union, they will nevertheless spend years coming to terms with the outcome. Much in the way that the perpetrator relives the event, but for very different reasons, leaving them chronically guarded for the rest of their lives. And perhaps reliving the event, is the only thing they have in common.
What follows is a complex blend of shock, numbness, denial, disbelief and anger. For the lucky ones comes recovery, but not without the struggle of posttraumatic stress disorder often heightened during Interaction with the criminal justice system. Again, this is varied depending on the individual, but one possible common thread with the average victim is their perceived vulnerability. Most predators, as in the animal kingdom, will seek out the weak in the herd, and serial killers are no different, for not even the most ardent psychopath will willingly target a prey that is stronger than themselves. And this is the thing that our victim will learn to loath about themselves, the thing that exposed them to the perpetrator’s endgame, leading them to the crossroads; two paths … Withdraw and hide from the world, or explore the strengths needed to never be a victim again.
What’s your idea of the perfect crime novel? Have you read any crime novels where you get the perspective of both the victim and the perpetrator? Let us know in the comments.