Is the serial killer now a cliché? Rhian Davies investigates…

I first said it in 2007: I am all serial killered out.  There’s only so much you can do with this type of criminal in crime fiction it’s all too easy to fall into cliché territory.  However, before I continue, I should add that I have read novels in the last year that have involved a serial killer and they’ve been good ones – because they avoided the cliché.  One concentrated on the impact on the lives of those who suffered loss at the hands of the evil and manipulative killer; the other looked at the role the internet and digital communication can play in spreading news and misleading information, including the cult of celebrity as applied to a serial killer.

So what makes the cliché?  These are the novels that rely on a chase, a narrative with pace, increasingly gruesome murders, a profile and a profiler, a slaughtering acceleration and a slip up on the part of the killer to bring about resolution.  And oh, the profile.  Yes, the profile.  You might find, like me, that you can write your own now.

Subject is a white male, likely to be between the ages of 18 and 45.  He may hold down a relatively low profile job, but it will allow him a flexible schedule.  Something will have triggered the start of his killing spree; possibly the death of his mother.  He was unnaturally cruel to small animals when very young and disrespectful to girls when in his teens.

Go on, write your own, you know you can.  That one took mere minutes.  (I had to do a little research.)  But I did leave out skinning rabbits.  Thus we have the fictional serial killer profile checklist.  Writers who want to capitalise on this with some originality simply tick the boxes down the other side of the list.  Enter: the female serial killer.  Enter: the high IQ, high performing corporate executive.  Enter: the one who is simply taking out all those he/she has a grudge against and loving every slasher moment.  Enter: the many who now slaughter their way through the UK.  (Why, oh why?  We have so few of them in reality that imagination comes across as delusions of hauteur.)

Recently, I vocalised my gripes only to receive the reply ‘But they sell’.  Perhaps it’s an age thing, as I read many such tomes in the 90s.  Now they just seem so derivative.  Oh, how I long for one of these serial killers to leap off the page into real life just so I can declare ‘Hey, Mr Serial Killer, please crawl back under your stone as you bore me so much.’

If an author finds an original take on this one, they may well capture me.  But it is unlikely to state ‘serial killer’ on the cover…

Rhian Davies runs the popular crime fiction blog It’s a Crime (or a Mystery…) at http://itsacrime.typepad.com and her Twitter page is @crimeficreader

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