Monday, November 8, 2010

I Don't Do Serial Killers!

I am probably the last person in the universe to read The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. Spoiler alert--if there is another person after me who has not read it, please disregard this post. I shall give away plot points.
For the first two hundred pages I was
a. enjoying it as an interesting read but
at the same time wondering why it generated so much buzz as it was not particularly exciting or unique.

Then I got to the nitty gritty and found that the family secrets included a branch of sadistic serial murderers. And that was it for me. I don't do serial killers. I find them a real cop-out for the mystery writer. I would much rather read about an ordinary, normal person who has been driven to kill by circumstances that might put any of us in his position. I like to see all my characters as humans to whom I can relate. 

The twisted warped mind of a serial killer may be fascinating as a psychological study, but it doesn't play fair with the readers on the whodunit level. Obviously a good serial killer leaves no motive clues, because the only motive is his crazy gratification.

So I had hoped that the skeletons within the Varner family in TGWTDT would have been those of greed, betrayal, fear... those motives with which we can identify.

So please share your opinions. Do you enjoy serial killer stories? Do you think that writers write about them because they are shocking and scary and thus have 'bestseller' potential?  Did you like the GWTDT? 
Do you think it deserved the hype?

17 comments:

  1. Generally I agree with you, Rhys. But I got totally caught up in GWTDT and the two following. I'm not sure I can explain why, but I think I was more interested in the two main characters rather than the evil ones.

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  2. Hi Rhys, I agree with you. I am a mystery reader, but TGWTDT was a bit too much and too gruesome for me. I enjoy the whodunit style that you have better.

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  3. Hi Rhys - I did two posts on TGWTDT. I wasn't engaged in the beginning. The only reason I continued to read was the hope (my sister told me it would get better) for something interesting. While I finished the novel, I wished I hadn't. There wasn't entertainment or enjoyment - it was just twitsted - for me, anyway.

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  4. Like you, it took me a long time to get into it. I put it down twice, before finally persevering and sticking with it the third time. I normally will not read anything with a serial killer in it..and I don't read true crime, either. So I agree with your point there.
    TGWTDT was too gritty for me, as well. However, I did find myself sucked into the story after Lisbeth appeared, so...I haven't read the other ones yet, and don't know if I will.
    As for if it deserved the hype...well, not for me it didn't, but a LOT of things don't live up to the hype for me. It seems to me that a lot of things that get hyped by the media/book reviewers are edgier, grittier, than I like.

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  5. For me Lisbeth was the only really interesting thing about it--a truly complex character.

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  6. I've not read the Larsson books; anything described as "gruesome" or "gritty" is generally a turn-off for me. Serial killers can be well done, though, as part of traditional mysteries - consider Christie's "The A.B.C. Murders" or, for a different approach, Ellery Queen's "Cat of Many Tails." It's not the presence or absence of a serial killer that counts - it's how the author develops the characters.

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  7. I haven't read any of the series. I have to agree with Shel about hype. For most books, for me, a lot of hype tells me it's not for me. And from what I've read here, I don't think I'll be bothering to waste my time with these books. Thanks for bringing up the subject, Rhys.

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  8. I too find the 'normal' motives much more interesting than the serial killer self-gratification trope. Done to death and beyond. Really.

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  9. Lisbeth made the books fun the read. Murder is murder.

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  10. I totally agree with you, Rhys... and oddly enough, I have a Bachelors degree in Psychology. :)

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  11. Rhys, I didn't read much of the post past the first lines, because I'm one of those who haven't read GWTDT, haven't seen the film(s), and don't plan to do so unless some adorable and responsible man decides to plant himself on my couch and give me a shoulder to hide my face in and cover my ears during any sinister or violent parts . . . I don't watch/listen/consider films with emotional and physical violence, because my mind/body don't know how to screen out the consequences of doing so, and I get nightmares. I am pretty appalled at this trend in the U.S. towards ultraviolent imagery, stories, fascination . . . it's reminiscent of the black days of entertainment in Germany at some points in time, and I'd rather we not go THERE!

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  12. I haven't read that series, but I do find serial killers interesting. Colin Wilson (a fellow Brit) has co-written some interesting non-fiction books about some of the more notorious ones, and I found it very fascinating--the things that happen that turn them into serial killers. When it comes to reading fiction with a serial killer, as long as we find out early on that the killer is a SK, then I find it fascinating how the detectives come to catch him. I loved "Silence of the Lambs" (book and movie) and the Alex Cross movies/books as well. Guess it depends on how it's done. I also loved the movie "Seven" With Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. It's dark as hell, though. I can see why it's not for everyone.

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  13. Serial killers operate on a whole other level and are crazy psychos.
    I did not read those books, nor have any intention to either.
    But I suppose, there is something for everyone.

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  14. I haven't read it yet, but I don't do serial killers either. I much prefer spunky sleuths who keep me wondering.

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  15. For me these books were interesting because of the portrayal of Lisbeth-as one person above said, a very complex person. I thought also the author's attempt to portray a young woman who has been a victim of abuse but refuses to be a victim was interesting. I wanted her to find the abusers and get justice for herself and the other women who had been taken advantage of and I applauded her determination. And I found the depiction of her hacker community fascinating, too. Don't know if it is entirely authentic, but it was interesting.

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  16. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn't my ordinary cup of tea, and I wouldn't have read it if it weren't for my Book Club. My husband is also a mystery writer, so I'm more used to his Victorian characters and his London Underworld setting. However, once I started, I couldn't put "Dragon Tattoo" down. I agree that Lisbeth was a deeply sympathetic character, but I was even more interested in "Kalle" Blomkvist. The dark, Swedish winter made a wonderful backdrop for a sinister but compelling story.

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  17. I have mixed feelings about your post. Generally, I believe a good author is a good author and a good story a good story. I do enjoy serial killer stories on occasion because what compels them is completely foreign to me. I read each of the Larsson books and agree that each one dragged in the beginning. Conversely each one picked up a nice clip after the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the novel. The second ends with a huge shocker and one of the most memorable scenes I have read in a book.
    If we are speaking of authors who make a book after book about serial killers it gets old. Patterson is an example. I wont read his anymore, but listen to his stories on audio (via online checkout at library) because they are always available. I've listened to stories about SKs who kill women in bathing suits, one who kills movie stars, one who kills cops etc. While we're on the topic of overdone, how about multiple personality disorders? Well written or not, those are an eye roller for me.

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