Jamie’s Digest (4): Cool bits from books – KILLER EDITION

Welcome to an all-crime-and-murder edition of Jamie’s digest.

Over the years I’ve read rather a lot of books on crooks, killers and their catchers; biographies of serial killers; books on policing, profiling and criminology; texts about psychopathy and abnormal psychology. I know that the presence of these sorts of interests in someone’s life, in the proper context, can be taken as a red flag, but I absolutely promise that I’m not a serial-killer-in-waiting. And I swear that I haven’t got my fingers crossed right now (the whole bunch of them are still loose and bobbing around inside the little pouch tied to my waist that I’ve always kept them in). I’m simply fascinated by the extremes of violent, murderous and ritualistic behaviour, of which the human being (most typically the male) is capable. What makes one man a killer and the other a mild-mannered bank clerk? Is there such a thing as good and evil (is there such a thing as a mild-mannered bank clerk)? Are killers mad or bad, born or made? How do you catch them? Is it dangerous to walk in their shoes, a la Will Graham? The whole sprawling subject  is exciting, horrifying, exhilarating, nauseating, absorbing, chilling, repugnant, repulsive and compulsive all at once.

Here are excerpts from some books on killing and killers I’ve read recently.

“The guy you’re looking for will have a limp, and a dog called Daniel.”

Netflix’s Mindhunter was one of the best TV shows of 2017, a fictional adaptation of real-life FBI profiler John Douglas’s first forays into researching and cataloguing the behaviour of rapists and serial killers with a view to helping police focus their investigations on the most likely suspects in live cases, or helping to convict suspects at trial. The events that unfold in the show all more-or-less happened, in some form; certainly all of the killers, rapists and assorted criminals depicted in the series all existed. Where the TV adaptation differs significantly from its source text is through the characters and histories of the main FBI-based antagonists, who are only loosely based upon their real-life counterparts, and even have different names. This affords the TV show more of an element of surprise, and a greater capacity to shock. We know what happens to Ed Kemper, Ted Bundy et al, but we now have no idea how exactly the work they do will affect the FBI profilers, or their families. Smart move.

The book is fascinating and informative. The first third or so focuses on John Douglas himself, and how he came to pursue (and essentially create!) the field of profiling. It’s illuminating, not least because the young, rebellious, academically-underachieving John Douglas doesn’t appear to fit the profile of a future profiler. He certainly did a lot of slacking and engaged in a bit of borderline criminal behaviour before he found his calling.

The rest of the book, as you would hope and expect, offers insights into profiling and behavioural analysis, and discusses many famous cases from throughout John Douglas’ career.

For instance, here’s his take on (a then very much still alive) Charles Manson:

Manson: Complete and Total Cult

“After listening to Manson, I believe that he did not plan or intend the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends; that, in fact, he lost control of the situation and his followers. The choice of the site and victims was apparently arbitrary. One of the Manson girls had been there and thought there was money around. Tex Watson, the good-looking, all-American honor student from Texas, sought to rise in the hierarchy and rival Charlie for influence and authority. Zoned out ike the others on LDS and having bought into the leader’s new tomorrow. Watson was the primary killer and led the mission to the Tate-Polanski house and encouraged the others to the ultimate depravities.

Then, when these inadequate nobodies came back and told Charlie what they had done, that helter-skelter had begun, he couldn’t very well back down and tell them they had taken him too seriously. That would have destroyed his power and authority. So he had to do them one better, as if he had intended the crime and its aftermath, leading them to the LaBianca home to do it again. But significantly, when I asked Manson why he hadn’t gone in and participated in the killings, he explained, as if we were dense, that he was on parole at the time and couldn’t risk his freedom by violating that.

So I believe from the background information and the interviews we did with Manson that while he made his followers into what he needed, they, in turn, made him into what they needed and forced him to fulfill it.

Every couple of years, Manson comes up for parole and has been turned down every time. His crimes were too politicised and too brutal for the parole board to take a chance on him. I don’t want him let out either. But if he were released at some point, knowing what I do about him, I wouldn’t expect him to be a serious violent threat like a lot of these guys [other high-profile killers] are. I think he’d go off into the desert and live out there, or else try to cash in on his celebrity for money. The biggest threat would be from the misguided losers who would gravitate to him and proclaim him their god and leader.”

And now helping to make the distinction between a killer’s MO and signature:

MO vs signature

“Modus operandi – MO – is learned behaviour. It’s what the perpetrator does to commit the crime. It is dynamic – that is, it can change. Signature, a term I coined to distinguish it from MO, is what the perpetrator has to do to fulfill himself. It is static; it does not change.

For example, you wouldn’t expect a juvenile to keep committing crimes the same way as he grows up unless he gets it perfect the first time. But if he gets away with one, he’ll learn from it and get better and better at it. That’s why we say MO is dynamic. On the other hand, if this guy is committing crimes so that, say, he can dominate or inflict pain on or provoke begging and pleading from a victim, that’s his signature. It’s something that expresses the killer’s personality. It’s something he needs to do.”

Most interesting of all is John Douglas’ thoughts on what makes a killer, and the power best deployed proactively to stop it:

All you need is…?

“In all my years of research and dealing with violent offenders, I’ve never yet come across one who came from what I would consider a good background and functional, supportive family unit. I believe that the vast majority of violent offenders are responsible for their conduct, made their choices, and should face the consequences of what they do. It’s ridiculous to say that someone doesn’t appreciate the seriousness of what he’s done because he’s only fourteen or fifteen. At eight, my son, Jed, has already known for years what’s right and what’s wrong.

But twenty-five years of observation has also told me that criminals are more ‘made’ than ‘born,’ which means that somewhere along the line, someone who provided a profound negative influence could have provided a profound positive one instead. So what I truly believe is that along with more money and police and prisons, what we most need more of is love. This is not being simplistic; it’s at the very heart of the issue.”

It’s refreshing that after decades of talking to and hunting people who slit throats, strangle women, kill kids, mutilate corpses, and dump bodies in rivers, John Douglas still believes in love.

Amazon link: Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

I – The Creation of a Serial Killer, by Jack Olsen

This book splits its time between following the life of angry giant Keith Hunter Jesperson in the third person, and living through his life and crimes in the first person, the latter device powerful but rather disquieting, as it forces you into the mind of a killer as he kills and prepares to kill. While both gruesome and shocking, the book does try to answer the question of how Jesperson was ‘made’, but certainly isn’t interested in exonerating Jesperson or excusing his behaviour. This book’s never an easy read, but it’s very illuminating and, boy, Jack Olsen could write.

The excerpt below comes after the end of Jesperson’s killing-career, as he indulges his narcissism as he awaits his fate in prison. We’re not inside Jesperson’s thoughts here.

“His [Jesperson’s] first attempt to establish contact with a marquee murderer had taken place early in 1996, while he was still juggling legal problems in Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. He’d written a friendly letter to Danny Rolling, facing execution in Florida for the massacre of five college students. Jesperson’s letter to “the Gainesville Slasher” congratulated Rolling on finding a new girlfriend – “she sounds like a neat and great person.” The letter had a whiff of sycophancy. “Hope all will go well with you, my friend in Christ,” wrote the lifelong agnostic. “God bless you. No response is needed.”

None was received. While Keith was awaiting a reply, the fastidious Rolling was telling a third party that he found the Self-start Serial Killer Kit and Keith’s other attempts at Internet gallows humour in atrocious taste. “That kind of humour doesn’t impress me,” said the man who’d slashed four victims to death and decapitated a fifth. “There is NOTHING, absolutely nothing about KILLING that is humourous.” ”

I find it incredible that a man who’s murdered many women and chopped off heads can demonstrate such prudishness in other spheres of his life. Or maybe he hates – to use Dexter-talk – his ‘dark passenger’ and sees his incarcerated self as somehow separate from it.

Jesperson was more successful in striking up dialogue with an imprisoned cannibal, who was keen to talk death and recipes.

A letter from Nicolas Claux, the Vampire of Paris:

“I personally think that any kind of spiced sauce will spoil the naturally sweet taste of human flesh and blood – human meat is a gift from the Gods, and it is a shame to ruin its delightful taste with seasonings and spices… Bon appetit!”

Amazon link: I: The Creation of a Serial Killer by Jack Olsen

The Killing Season

The Killing Season chronicles a year in the life of real-life LA cop duo Razanskas and Winn, a grizzled veteran detective and his rookie partner. He’s a jaded, wise-cracking old white guy; she’s a driven, no-nonsense young black woman. Together they’re going to shovel shit against the tide of blood that’s flowing over the lost, sprawling, poverty-stricken, violent neighbourhoods of south central Los Angeles. I love these guys. They face so much, and work so hard, against almost insurmountable odds, in a hellish environment, and with the worst resources imaginable at their disposal.

Well, I loved these guys. I did some googling on them after finishing the book and found that on one of the first cases they worked on they’d essentially fitted up an innocent guy. Took the sheen off it all, somewhat. Still, a great book. A real eye-opener. A tragedy from start to finish. There but for the Grace of… whatever you happen to believe in, go you and I.

He was shot… where? 

“Razanskas gives Winn and another detective a few details about Masuayama and Reyes’ body dump case and mentions that the victim was shot in the ear. The detective tells him he once had a case where his victim was found lying in a carport, naked. The coroner investigator could not find an entry wound, an exit wound, blood, or any sign of trauma. At the autopsy, the fluoroscope, a type of X-ray machine, solved the mystery and revealed a .22 slug. The man, who had crossed a Jamaican drug dealer, had been shot in the anus.”

Death, loss and unspeakable tragedy feature almost constantly throughout the book, but this next excerpt stung me quite hard.

On murder and its consequences:

“Erick’s friends were stunned when they heard he was killed in a drive-by. He was not the type who would hang out on the street corners with the gangbangers. He lived with his girlfriend and two young children in Ontario, a suburb 40 miles east of Los Angeles. They did not want to raise their children in the city. He had been laid off from his job as a security guard and was spending a few days a week during the summer at his mother’s South-Central house. She has diabetes and failing eyesight and Erick had been caring for her.

When he returned to his old neighbourhood, he liked to play dominoes with his friends and water the roses in his mother’s yard. He landscaped the yeard years ago and won a gardening award from the city. His mother still has the trophy on her mantel. He took pride in the lush lawn he put in, the red, yellow, pink and violet rosebushes he tended, the thick stands of philodendron he planted to shade the yard.

He was so well liked, more than 300 people came to his funeral, including a few teachers from elementary and high school. At his wake, his 3-year-old son, Erick, Jr, who now wears his father’s gold earring, tried to climb into the coffin. He could not comprehend that his father was gone. Later that night, he picked up the telephone and tried to call his father so he could tell him to come home.

Erick’s 5-year-old daughter, Danielle, who is missing her front teeth and has pigtails, lingered by her father’s open casket. She kissed him and held his hand. Finally, she told her mother, “I want to die, so I can be with my daddy in heaven.”

Now Danielle’s mother often finds her crying in her bed, the blankets pulled over her head. When her mother pulls the covers back, Danielle tells her that she tries to muffle her cries. She does not want to upset her.

Every day, Erick, Jr., talks about his father. And every day he tells his mother, “I want to find the man who shot my daddy. I want to kill him.” “

Amazon Link: The Killing Season by Miles Corwin

Until next time: keep reading, mother-bookers.

Recommendations for some excellent books related to this edition’s theme

Lost Girls: an Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker

People Who Eat Darkness: Love, Grief and a Journey into Japan’s Shadows by Richard Lloyd Parry

Blind Faith by Joe McGinniss

Son: A Psychopath and his Victims by Jack Olsen

Blind Eye: The Terrifying Story of a Doctor Who Got Away with Murder by James B. Stewart

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Robert D. Hare

Jamie’s Digest (1): Cool Bits from Books

I’d like to share with you a few passages I’ve stumbled across in books I’ve been reading recently that have struck a powerful chord with me, variously for reasons of eloquence, prescience, insight or good old-fashioned entertainment value.

To kick things off, here’s an excerpt about Donald Trump that sums him up succinctly and powerfully, and echoes the way many millions around the world feel about his rise to political power:

“He was slowly turning the country into a videocracy, a land where one person could spread disinformation and lies to millions of passive spectators who were hypnotised by the flashy, false glamour of television. Every month there seemed to be a new scandal, but nothing could bring him down: not the stories of bribery or of prostitution, not the gaffes or toe-curling vulgarity for which he was famous. There was no depth to which he wouldn’t sink. But none of it made any difference: he was ferociously defended by his mediocre political allies and by his hirelings in the media… There wasn’t a trace of statesmanship or gravitas; there wasn’t a hint of honesty or dignity. It drove me nuts and, having done my bit to warn of the danger by writing a book about him, I now yearned to go home.”

Neat, right? Except what you’ve just read wasn’t about Donald Trump at all, but Silvio Berlusconi. I guess history doesn’t always have to wait half a century or so before repeating itself.

That damning summation of Berlusconi was taken from Blood on the Altar: The True Story of an Italian Serial Killer by Tobias Jones, a book I’d heartily recommend, whether you have a predilection for serial killers, travel writing or both (imagine if there was a more literal mash-up of that sub-genre : Route 66 With a Busted Wing by Theodore Bundy; Yorkshire: From Dusk till Dawn by Peter Sutcliffe; Eastbourne Uncovered by  Harold Shipman).

Sometimes Jones can ramble a teensy bit too far off the beaten (to death) track, but his affection for and empathy with the bereaved family, his thirst for justice, and his passion for Italy in general and the Basilicata region in particular (not to mention his deep knowledge of the region’s culture and history) all work in concert to make Blood on the Altar a well-researched, gripping, gruesome, grizzly and (mostly) fluid piece of work.

Amazon link: Blood on the Altar

The [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] of [redacted] [redacted] on [redacted]

The following excerpt is taken from You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom by Nick Cohen, a book of striking relevance to this new age of offence in which we now live. Cohen is an author whose style and literary substance I admire greatly; that he was a contemporary and devotee of Christopher Hitchens – my oratorical and journalistic hero – only serves to amplify the keen respect I already hold for him. I think this book – while some may criticise it for occasionally stating the obvious, or preaching to the converted – is an incredibly lucid, important and necessary piece of work, and should be read by absolutely everyone (while they’re still lucky enough to enjoy the comparative freedom to do so).

“The faster you strip cultures down, the more you find contrariness and disputation, rather than a solid core, until eventually you reach the individual, a mammal shaped by evolution, material needs, cognitive biases and historical circumstances no doubt, but still a creature with a better right to state his opinions than kings and clerics have to silence them.

The faster you strip down the respectful arguments for religious censorship , the more you see the nation, tribe or community splintering, until you are left with one group of individuals with coercive power behind them demanding the right to censor another group of individuals because they disagree with them.”

Amazon link: You Can’t Read This Book

This book is pants – and I mean that as a compliment

I can’t resist buying books for our eldest son, Jack. I’m an avid reader (as is his mum), and a very vocal champion of the benefits and rewards of reading; as such, it’s a delight to see Jack so enthusiastic about and captivated by reading. Books are great for the burgeoning intellect, and even better for the imagination. It’s a constant source of joy and puzzlement to me that there are so many hidden gems and incredible bargains to be picked up in charity shops: as a hoarder, especially of books, I can’t understand why anyone would want to throw one away, much less a classic.

I picked up a special edition of the second book in the Captain Underpants’ series (all books in the series are written and illustrated by American author Dav Pilkey) during one of my recent charity shop forages. I had no idea there was a series, much less that I’d picked up book two of twelve. My son loved the book so much that my partner ordered him the full ten-book box set online (we had no idea there were actually twelve books in the series at that point).

The Captain Underpants books is intended for slightly older kids than my (almost) three-year-old, but because each volume is packed with good-natured naughtiness, inspired nonsense, mind-bending baddies, oodles of toilet humour, mini comic strips, and features an engaging illustration on every page, they’re more than able to maintain his interest, excite his imagination, make him laugh, and leave him longing for more.

I’ve only just discovered that a Captain Underpants movie is on general release this summer. It’ll be interesting to see my son’s reaction to his beloved heroes talking with American accents, given that I’ve made the three main characters of Principal Krupp, George and Harold sound reminiscent of the headmaster from The Inbetweeners, Louis Theroux and Peter Capaldi respectively.

Anyway, I’m a sucker for alliteration, and if you are too you’ll enjoy the below excerpt from the fifth book in the Captain Underpants series. Oh, and buy your kids – or the small people in your life – these books.

“The creamy candied carrots clobbered the kindergarteners. The fatty fried fish fritters flipped on to the first graders. The sweet-n-sour spaghetti squash splattered the second graders. Three thousand thawing thimbleberries thudded the third graders. Five hundred frosted fudgy fruitcakes flogged the fourth graders. And fifty-five fistfuls of fancy French-fried frankfurters flattened the fifth graders.”

Amazon link: Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman

The Mary Whitehouse Experience

Mary Whitehouse, the woman who spent the latter-half of her life campaigning to stop Great Britain’s religiously-and-politically conservative ‘values’ being warped and eroded by the Godless, licentious, lusty, lefty luvvies, commies, adulterers, swingers, blasphemers and homosexuals of the state-funded BBC (and beyond), died in 2001 at the grand old age of 91. She wanted to clean up TV, and society with it. Spoiler alert: she – and the National Viewers and Listeners Association (NAVLA) lobby-group that she spear-headed – failed miserably. You need only watch The Wire, The Sopranos, Dexter, Cracker, Black Mirror, Queer as Folk, The Inbetweeners, American Horror Story, or indeed most other shows on the schedule barring Songs of Praise, to see the truth of this. This book is a humorous look at some of the real gems from the Mary Whitehouse/NAVLA archive of letters both written and received on subjects as various as the child-traumatising horrors of Doctor Who, pop groups who appear to advocate teenage uprisings, accusing Jimmy Hendrix of having a wank on-stage, and this example below, where a newsreader is taken to task for insinuating he might be about to take a piss. It’s amazing how tame some of the supposed infractions of moral decency that Mary Whitehouse seized upon seem now from our vantage point in modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah (no place I’d rather be). If only Mary Whitehouse could see us now.

“Letter to BBC newsreader Richard Baker

7 May, 1973

Dear Mr. Baker

I am sure I speak for very many people when I say how much your work both as a newsreader and as the compere of ‘These You Have Loved’ is appreciated. It always seems to me, if I may say so, that your work has real quality.

It is because of this that I venture to make two criticisms. The first, and most important, was the remark you made recently at the end of a news bulletin which carried, as its last story, a feature about the antics at the opening of a new lavatory. As you signed off you made some remark about having ‘to go’ yourself. Watching the screen, your own expression of embarrassment led up to the conclusion that these lines had been prepared for you, and were not spontaneous as these final ‘punch lines’ are obviously meant to appear.

Mr. Baker, we have a high regard for you, but remarks of this kind are not only an intrusion into our privacy, they are an intrusion into your own. I feel quite sure, from the impression of your personality which comes over the screen, that you would not normally publicly inform a gathering of your friends that you were going to the lavatory, you would just go!

I have intended writing to you ever since that particular episode, but was moved finally to do so by your remarks about ‘feathered birds’ in ‘These You Have Loved’ on Saturday night. I know this is a small matter, but feel sure that the people who gain so much enjoyment from listening to this programme are unlikely to think of women and girls as ‘birds’. I know we felt irritated by it, and are rapidly coming to the conclusion that there are no programmes which one can watch or listen to without meeting this general cheapening of culture and people.

Could you have a word with the people who prepare your scripts?

With best wishes, and again many thanks for so much.

Yours sincerely,

(Mrs) Mary Whitehouse

Amazon link: Ban This Filth by Ben Thompson

Happy reading, folks.

Biggest TV Disappointments of 2013: The Following

following

Kevin Bacon should be commended for his savvy in snapping up the lead role in this bold, brutal, and exhilarating piece. Yes, the production values are high, the dialogue is crisp and knowing, and visually it’s slick and vibrant, but make no mistake: Bacon’s the real star here. Everything is lifted to another level by the power of his performance; every second he’s on screen reminds us why this talented actor deserves his place at the top of the A-list. In a word: unmissable. 

You’re confused, aren’t you? Here you are expecting me to be giving The Following a ruddy good thrashing – pants down, six of the best – and yet here I am lavishing praise on the bugger. Well, not exactly. In actual fact, the paragraph above has nothing whatsoever to do with The Following. I was applauding those EE ads Kevin Bacon stars in, which begin to look like a series of mini-Citizen Kanes when set against The Following.

bacon1Remember Kevin Bacon in Sleepers? Remember when he led those boys down to the basement? Well, watching The Following is like being one of those boys. You’ll say to yourself: ‘I don’t know where he’s taking me, or why, but I just know this is going to be an awesome experience! How could it not be? I mean, it’s Kevin Bacon! This is going to be brilliant, just brillia… uh… em… Kevin, what are you doing? WHAT… WHAT are you DOING… Kevin! Kevin?? … KEVI…OW!!… inOWWWWwwwwuuuu…uhm… erm… I think… I think KEVIN BACON just FUCKED me!’

The Following is a piece of dog-shit. It really is: a hot, slimy, sticky, dog-shit sandwich, where even the bread is made out of dog-shit. It’s not a BLT: it’s a BDS. Take a big bite and watch that dog-shit slush down your shirt-front. Rub it in. Take some and smear it in your eyes. Saw open your skull and lather it onto your lobes like it’s some sort of shitty sun-tan lotion. Get someone to flamethrow your head – really flambé that dog-shit. Melt it straight into your skull, scalp and throbbing mind-bollock. Is it excrutiating? Good. That just means it’s working. You’re not done yet, though. Next, let a dog – any dog – lick the disgusting, syrupy, melted, congealed faecal mush from your exposed and infected brain, and then wait for the greedy beast to vomit it all back into your mouth. Ah, drink it in. Gargle with it. Swish that sick-shit around in your gob like it’s Colgate mouth-wash. Mmmmm, feel the chunks in your cheeks. Let them marinate. Then French kiss the dog. Go on, kiss it. Do it! Let its big, slobbery, dog-dick-scented canine tongue investigate your inner-jaw. And why stop there? Fly the dog to Vegas and marry it. Cheat on it with a hooker who’s also a tiger, and then have sex with that slutty tiger – and the dog – live on webcam, and email the footage to your parents. And then – and ONLY then – shoot yourself through the throat. You’ll have a more entertaining evening, I guarantee you.

The Following: not even WHITE dogshit.

The Following: not even WHITE dogshit.

Still determined to enjoy The Following? Be warned: you’ll have to lower your expectations in order to extract even minimal enjoyment from this rancid semen-stain of a show. Did you deduce that? Have I been too subtle thus far? And, people, you won’t have to lower your expectations just a little. You’ll need to lower them so much that eventually your expectations will drop down through the earth’s molten core, pierce through the fabric of time, space and reality, and knock Dante clean into a coma.

In fairness… the first and last episodes aren’t entirely awful. It’s just the bit in the middle that’s agonisingly bad. And that’s over eight hours worth of dog-shit. This really should have been a movie, or at-least a three-part mini-series. Maybe they could have salvaged something. But it isn’t. And they didn’t. All that’s left is a squandered premise and wasted potential, and an idea stretched beyond breaking point.  And that makes me mad. And when I get mad… I do dog-shit analogies in which people fuck tigers. Ggggrrrrrreeeeeaaaaatttttt (‘Kellogg’s on line 1…’)!

What it’s about: The Back-story

Kevin Bacon as Ryan Hardy.

Kevin Bacon as Ryan Hardy.

Kevin Bacon plays former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, a retired, alcoholic cliché who has to hunt down escaped convict Joe Carroll, an allegedly charismatic serial killer – and former professor of literature – played by James Purefoy.

Hardy catches Carroll after the depraved don’s first round of brutal serial slayings, but takes a near-fatal knifing to the chest as he arrests him. Hardy’s injuries force him out of the FBI, and he hits the bottle big-time. I know what you’re thinking: a maverick lawman who turns to booze to fight the pain, and doesn’t know if he’s ‘still got it’? Yes. It’s a startlingly original conceit (actually, a lot of novel work can be done with stock characters and familiar scenarios, but in this case…). In a nutshell, life’s a bit shitty and bleak for Ryan, but he does get to pump Carroll’s hot but irritating ex-wife Claire, played by Natalie Zea, so there’s some degree of silver lining to be enjoyed. Unfortunately, he also falls in love with her, the silly boy, which complicates things somewhat.

James Purefoy as Joe Carroll.

James Purefoy as Joe Carroll.

Meanwhile, Joe Carroll, in prison for being a serial killer and all-round bad egg, is busy secretly assembling a cabal of murderous psychopaths, who’ll be on hand to help him escape, and carry out his evil masterplan. The plan, such as it is, involves Carroll winning back his wife and young son (Well, it’s more ‘kidnapping’ than ‘winning back’) and tormenting the living hell out of Ryan Hardy using the aforementioned newly acquired legion of head-cases. Oh, and murdering lots of innocent people as well, obviously. Be rude not to.

Fantastically – and I don’t use that word as a synonym for ‘brilliantly’ – Carroll manages to recruit the bulk of his mental, stabby cultists through the internet… which he has completely unfettered access to… while in prison. Yep. You read that right. He recruits hundreds of killers to his cause, on his computer, in prison, while in prison for murdering lots of women.

GUARD 1: ‘Hey, shall we check this brutal serial killer’s internet history, see who he’s been talking to?’

GUARD 2: ‘Why don’t we just monitor his every move, read all of his mail, lock his door at night, stop him from having blades, and pay close attention to the hundreds of psychotic strangers who visit him every week as well, you fucking Nazi?! Geez, let the guy relax and play some Candy Crush, Hitler!’

OK, he’s got one of the guards on side, but even still…

In addition, both Hardy and Carroll have written and published books: the former, a blow-by-blow account of his investigation into Carroll and the events leading up to his stabbing at the madman’s hands; the latter, a pretentious piece of shit novel that has savagely dark undertones. Ryan Hardy is in fact the subject of Joe Carroll’s difficult second novel, which we discover Joe is writing as a companion to and an account of the horrible shit he does to his nemesis over the course of the show’s first season.

Anyway,  The Following begins nine years after Carroll’s incarceration, at the very moment he escapes from prison.

Why it sucks so hard

1.) Joe Carroll is a Poe-ring Bastard

tf6

“Hmmm, I wonder what method I’ll use to kill my agent.”

Joe Carroll has a thing for Edgar Allen Poe. He’s obsessed by the man and his works, and aspires to write fiction of a similar quality; unfortunately, he’s a two-bit, psycho hack, who couldn’t write for RiverCity. He is quite good at killing, though, and with this in mind he resolves to build his cult and its murders around the theme of Edgar Allen Poe. Some of his bampots even wear rubber Poe masks when they’re out on a kill. Now that’s devotion fur ye.

The whole Poe thing’s a nice conceit, but one that gets old far too quickly, and becomes dull even more quickly than that. Luckily, the writers seem to agree, and the idea sort of fizzles out for a while after the first few episodes. You’ll be glad. There’s only so much tenuous, Poe-related cod philosophy you can listen to before you begin to wonder if Drop Dead Diva might’ve been a better choice of box-set.

tf8

Couples’ counselling.

We’re supposed to believe that Joe Carroll is the most charismatic man on earth. But he isn’t. He’s smug. And arrogant. And a little bit creepy. His only discernible talent seems to be that he’s a half-decent English teacher. Nothing in the acting or dialogue convinced me that this man could’ve enticed or bewitched a rag-tag assortment of insanely-loyal psychopaths to do his evil bidding. Get them a passing grade on an Edgar Allen Poe test paper? Maybe. But this? Midway through the series, one of his insanely devoted cultists offers himself to Carroll as a human sacrifice, ultimately because he thinks Carroll will have a right laugh stabbing him to death. He’s right! I did, too. I think I was supposed to be shocked, though.

So how does Joe Carroll’s ‘charisma’ work? How does he recruit his army and manage to provoke such slavish, unquestioning devotion in his would-be recruits? Beats me. On the surface of it, he just sort of stares at them intensely and then talks to them in a honeyed, husky whisper for a couple of minutes:

‘So you’re a fan of murdering, and you butchered your own mum? Ach, don’t worry about it, murdering’s cool. Extra points for a family member! Anyway, you’re awesome, and I’m definitely awesome, so how about joining my cult? We’ve got prose and everything, and sometimes we get to talk like we’re in a high-school production of Shakespeare.’

2.) Soap Cra-pera

Awful. I don't even care what their names are.

Awful. I don’t even care what their names are.

Too much of the action focuses on a trio – two guys, one girl – of young, trendy, be-quiffed and coiffured cockbags. After many years spent as dormant ‘sleeper-cultists’ living undercover as Claire Carroll’s neighbours and babysitter, their mission is activated: kidnap Carroll’s kid, and get him to Serial Killer HQ in time for big Joe’s arrival. These three characters are essentially 2-dimensional, knife-wielding haircuts, who seem to exist only to look pretty and spout pseudo-philosophical bullshit about how awesome it is to butcher people. And to shag each other, obviously.

The three losers eventually form a steamy, bisexual love triangle, which proves to be about as entertaining as having experimental groin surgery performed upon you by an angry monkey in the grip of meth withdrawal, and less convincing than Katie Hopkins’ impersonation of a human being. Whenever these three are on screen together The Following becomes like an episode of Hollyoaks Later with slightly shitter dialogue.

3.) Police

"God DAMN it! I can't get past level 358!"

“God DAMN it! I can’t get past level 358!”

OK, I know the stakes are supposed to be high in a policey/slashy/killy show. High stakes that gradually become higher still serve to ramp up the tension; create conflict and suspense; and drive the narrative in an exciting direction that makes the audience want to keep watching. I get that. And if the police were absolutely brilliant at their jobs, then the show would be over in less than an episode:

‘Ha ha ha ha, you’ll never foil my fiendish plans, never, never, NEVERMORE I say, NEVE… {click} Shit.’

Granted, the baddies’ plan is suitably fiendish. There’s an army of sleeper serial-killer cultists out there, drawn from all walks of life, and across the divides of age, race and gender. At the beginning, the good guys have no idea that the cult even exists, and even when they realise what they’re dealing with, they still have no idea how many members it has, or who they might be. They could be anyone: a cop, a prison guard, an FBI agent!

I get all that. But if the police are consistently shown to be about as effective as the Chuckle Brothers armed only with a bag of dead chickens, as they are in The Following, then it quickly destroys your willingness to suspend disbelief. Honestly, the cops don’t win at anything. Not once. Every strategy they adopt fails, everything they say is bull-shit, and everything they do is ball-achingly stupid: ridiculously, incompetently, fatally stupid.

tf10In real life, I’ve seen more and better trained police officers sent to deal with a noise disturbance in my street than The Following’s fictional FBI ever deigned to send in pursuit of a serial killing cult. No-one ever takes back-up with them, and when they do call for back-up, it’s always at-least forty miles away. Jack Bauer would never have found himself in such a sorry situation: no matter where he or his agents were in the world, it only ever took them ten minutes tops to get where they needed to be. Actually, bad comparison, because Jack Bauer never needed back-up at all; a fucking sharp pencil would be good enough back-up for him (I suppose 24 suffered from the opposite problem to The Following: Jack Bauer was too good at his job).

Really, though, it’s as if the police and the FBI have recruited all of their officers from the same pool of people who always die horribly within the first six minutes of a horror film. Considering there’s a cult out there whose members could be anywhere and anyone – essentially making every stranger a suspect – the police seem keen to adopt the curious tactic of suspecting no-one at all. Douchebags.

4.) Ryan Hard-ly

hardyKevin Bacon is a really great actor: Ryan Hardy is a really shit character. He just mopes, broods, and frets his way through the dark, grey, oppressive atmosphere of The Following’s suicidally un-cheerful fictional world. It’s not Bacon’s fault, I suppose. All he did was sign the contract. I hope the cash was worth it, because Ryan Hardy’s merely a poor man’s Jack Bauer. Imagine Jack Bauer with a pacemaker and a drinking problem, and then stop to realise that even with a pacemaker and a drinking problem Jack Bauer would be a hundred times more fun, likeable and interesting than Ryan Hardy – and Bauer kills and tortures people in almost every episode! Come to think of it, although the premises and subject matters are radically different, it feels to me like The Following wants to be a slasher-psych-thriller version of 24 (but without the real-time element, obviously), and fails miserably on all counts. Can you still taste that dog-shit?

And this is before we even delve into Hardy’s reputed ‘death curse’. God, the dialogue is execrable on this show. There’s a scene that shows Hardy in bed delivering a woeful chunk of expository dialogue, in which he reveals that almost every single person in his life has died or been horrifically murdered, a preposterous roll-call of hilarious deaths. It’s supposed to make us sympathise and connect with the character, I suppose, but it only served to make me roll my eyes and snort out a derisory laugh.

‘…and then all I had left was my turtle, Mr Jenkins, but somebody put a pipe-bomb inside him and threw him in my girlfriend’s face…’

The Best Worst Moment

One of Carroll’s acolytes is captured by the FBI. He’s injured, so they sling him in a hospital room, and place him under armed guard. As he lies there awaiting interrogation, the loyal idiot realises that he would rather die than betray his master. He proceeds to kill himself by eating his own bandages, suffocating himself to death with them. I’m guessing the intention was to chill and shock the audience by showing them just how deep and twisted a loyalty Carroll inspires in his sick-ass tribe of psychopaths, but it didn’t have that effect on me. I thought it was funny as fuck.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of this scene from The Simpsons:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJEtonrIKP8

The Verdict

Do I really need to sum up this article for you? I don’t think there are any lines to read between here. The Following is shit. But it’s good shit, if you get enjoyment from deliberately watching shit things and then tearing them apart, like I know I do.

So, remarkably, I guess it’s good.

Now THAT’S a twist.

And, in closing…

zea