NEW BOOKS: John Lutz
TWIST is the title of my latest serial killer novel featuring former NYPD homicide detective Frank Quinn. It is the eighth in the Quinn series. I think there’s plenty of room for more. That’s because of what makes this kind of novel work.
That would be women In danger. Because of women in danger, the future of novels like TWIST is assured. The term “serial killers” suggests female victims. Almost always such killers are men. Almost always their victims are women.
I wrote TWIST for a number of reasons, only one of which was that serial killers sold well. The reason might be that they contain a story structure similar to that of a real serial killer investigation. In real life, and in serial killer novels, something terrible happens – like a gruesome sex-crime murder -- that seizes the public’s (the reader’s) interest. A psychosexual killer is on the loose. Then the main character, the lead detective, is introduced –– either in the novel or in the news media -- and the investigation becomes a chess game and a mano-a-mano exercise.
So it is with TWIST and Frank Quinn. The murders continue, and danger and difficulties increase, along with fear, building to a crisis, climax, and anti-climax (the trial and its result).
Just like in real life – or close enough to achieve a scary kind of plausibility.
And as in real life, the reader wonders why somebody would commit such a crime over and over. How did the killer become twisted to the point of almost inhuman disdain and cruelty?
The answer, of course, is in the past. One thing most serial killers have in common is a horrible and twisted childhood. Of course, other people have such childhoods and grow up to lead normal and harmless lives. What the difference in them is remains an illusive source of wonderment, as we hear about and learn about the twisted minds of those who harbor such evil. How can they do that?
How did they become so twisted?
Many if not most readers of serial killer novels are women. As my wily editor points out, most women enjoy a good safe scare. The operable word is safe. TWIST is safe. It can be escaped simply by closing the book.
The lead in and the rest of the story structure are there. Not unfamiliar, but always true. The twists and ups and downs are like a roller coaster. Think back to when you were a kid, rolling to a stop after a hellish roller coaster ride. Your first thought was probably “I’d love to go around again.” I’d like that to be, “I’d love to read another, similar book.”
When I began writing the Quinn stories, there weren’t all that many serial killer novels being published, despite the big successes of a notable few. Now such books have become extremely popular. Romance writers have begun to add murder to romance, having determined that this is a potent and salable brew.
But why are such books so popular now? And especially with female readers?
James Stephens said, “Women and birds are able to see without turning their heads, and that is indeed a necessary provision, for they are both surrounded by enemies.”
Unfortunately, that’s true. I think what assures the continuing success of serial killer novels is that women today lead more fearful lives. At least they perceive the world to have become more perilous.
My job has been made easier.
There seem to be two primary reasons for this perception of increased danger:
1) Overtly or subtly, women are still prey for predatory males. But now there is a pervasiveness of bad news about it. Cable TV news and/or journalism programs report in depth and give detailed descriptions of gruesome crimes that would have been just as gruesome, but much more locally reported on, not so many years ago. Now there are interviews so we feel that we know the people involved, and know the deceased. There is endless prattle on most media about whether the accused can get a “fair” trial in such an atmosphere of heated discussion. There is lots of heated discussion about that.
2) The instantaneousness of news, information, and misinformation. It’s all practically instantaneous now. News has moved on from what’s happened to what’s happening. iPhones are also cameras, video recorders, and sound recorders. Security cameras, and microphones, are virtually everywhere. Since the news is so widely and immediately reported, and in so many ways, the impression is that there’s more of it.
Whatever the statistics suggest, it seems that most women view the world as becoming increasingly dangerous.
I offer as evidence the fact that more and more women are taking self-defense courses and buying handguns that will fit in purses. A woman walks alone down a dark street where a gang of suspicious types is hanging around a porch stoop. There are a few lewd suggestive and obviously drunken cat calls. The woman slips her hand inside her purse and walks past without incident. She might well have a weapon.
This kind of thing isn’t recorded statistically, but it happens. And the knowledge that so many women are able to defend themselves adds to their perception that the training and weaponry are increasingly necessary. The fear remains, though the confidence to deal with it has increased.
Our woman in jeopardy walks past without incident, because the would-be assailants suspect a possible twist here; the helpless victim might have a black belt in karate, or might have a weapon. The balance of power might change in a few seconds. A twist.
Is this kind of scenario occurring more and more often? Could be. Lots of women seem to think so. Either way, that is the perception.
All of this, of course, is good for writers like me. And good for our readers.
That roller coaster thing…