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There are times when I like reading crime fiction, particularly crime fiction featuring serial killers. Quite some years ago, I read several particularly gruesome novels of this sort - novels so gruesome, in fact, that they border on horror - by the Canadian writing consortium who call themselves Michael Slade. I rather enjoyed them at the time.

Being sick and miserable this holiday season, I decided to revisit this particular author, reading some of the older books, one that I'd read before but didn't remember well (Headhunter) and two I don't remember reading (Ripper and Primal Scream).

They did not age particularly well in some ways, though they definitely satisfied the itch I have to read such books from time to time. The structure of the books, particularly Headhunter, which was the first published, was clunky. The dialogue did not always ring true. Technically, they were at best mediocre.

I very much liked, and continue to like, the fact that these books feature Canadian protagonists, RCMP officers, and that they have a strong procedural focus.

The most difficult thing about them, however, is the way in which the author(s), in attempting to expose sexism and racism in Canadian society and in the RCMP, manage to perpetuate it in their writing. It's very unsettling to see them trying to create a central hero figure in DeClerq who is not overtly sexist or racist and whose internal commentary is intended at times to highlight issues of racism and sexism in history, society, the RCMP, its officers snd policies, and the process of policing, while at the same tine giving us other protagonists who are very much sexist and racist, and relying on tropes from the manhating lesbian feminist to the superstitious black pimp/drug dealer steeped in "voodoo" practices straight from the swamps surrounding New Orleans. Oh, there are admirable female characters and a few admirable indigenous characters when the plot demand it, but the treatment of these issues is disturbingly uneven.

Nonetheless, I plan to read some of Slade's newer novels and see what kind of growth, if any, there has been.

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Jack the Ripper was not the only serial killer roaming the streets of London in 1888. Between 1887 and 1889, at least three women were killed and dismembered, and parts of their bodies disposed of in the Thames, although in one case, the torso and other parts were discovered on the grounds of the construction site for the new Scotland Yard building. The identity of the Thames Torso killer has never been determined, and there is some question as to whether the three murders he is agreed to have committed are the full extent of his crimes, as similar cases, also unsolved, had occurred in 1873-4 and 1884.

In Mayhem, Sarah Pinbourough infuses the facts of the Thames Torso Murders with a markedly supernatural story of possession by an ancient spirit of evil. The novel is centred on police surgeon Thomas Bond, who was an early practitioner of the science of forensic profiling, having produced a profile of the Ripper. Bond did play a historical role in the investigation of both the Ripper and the Thames Torso killer, performing autopsies on both Mary Jane Kelly and the second of the Torso killer's victims, Elizabeth Jackson. The novel gives him a much greater role, however, in the detection and final resolution of the murders.

I thoroughly enjoyed Pinborough's genre-bending historical crime horror novel on all counts.

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Early in the year I got into one of my occasional phases of interest in serial killers, and I did sone reading but was mostly dissatisfied. I'm not into reading about serial killers for the shock value of what exactly they've done, nor for the takes of the relentless detective work that brings them to justice. What I'm interested in is why they do it, what sets apart this particular group of human beings. Morrison's book came closest to what I wanted to be reading, but it was still too much about the crines and not the mind of the criminals. And unfortunately, Cornwell's new theory about the Ripper was just too far fetched.

John Douglas (with Mark Olshaker), Journey into Darkness
Roy Hazelwood (with Stephen Michaud), The Evil Men Do
Robert Keppel, The Riverman
Ann Rule, Green River, Running Red
Patricia Cornwell, Portrait of a Killer
Helen Morrison, My Life Among the Serial Killers

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