Horror Stories (and Not Enough Else)

OBSESSION: The FBI’s Legendary Profiler by John Douglas

Obsession provides a disturbing look at rape and murder and its perpetrators, by the guy who literally invented the forensic art of psychological profiling.

John Douglas (the author of Mindhunter, also co-written with Olshaker) was the founder and longtime head of the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit. Over his long career, he saw many cases that went unsolved, including the Green River Killer, a case so frustrating that it nearly killed Douglas himself. Douglas’s readers will be familiar with this assortment of famously grisly scenes combined with profiles of the murderers. This book focuses mainly on stalkers and their victims, so Douglas necessarily revisits the scenes of Rebecca Schaffer, Dominique Dunne, and Teresa Saldana. He also gives an overview of rapists/murderers such as Ted Bundy and Gary Heidnik, Philadelphia’s answer to Jeffrey Dahmer.

Unfortunately, much of the information here is already so familiar to crime buffs that there isn’t a ton to be gleaned from these sections. Douglas moves much more easily at the beginning, when he discusses a little-known killer who seems to have provided the blueprint for Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon (Thomas Harris fans, take note). Douglas’s profile of this stalker and killer is illuminating, unlike too much of this book, which is merely titillating. The promise of the subtitle goes unfulfilled–the “fighting back” seems limited to victim’s families joining support groups, rather than any real advice to those seeking protection from a stalker. In fact, most of these victims had restraining orders against their stalkers, which were of little use in the face of a knife or a gun.

Ultimately, Obsession winds up not much more than a collection of truly horrifying stories, which is a shame for both the reader, who justifiably expects more, and for Douglas, who has more to offer.

OBSESSION: The FBI’s Legendary Profiler Probes the Psyches of Killers, Rapists, Stalkers and Their Victims and Tells How to Fight Back by John Douglas & Mark Olshaker (Scribner, 384pp, ISBN: 0-684-84560-1)

Rebecca Kurson

Rebecca Kurson writes about literature, pop culture, television, science fiction and music. Her work has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Observer, The Federalist and Rodale's Organic Life.

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