The Killer Across the Table by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker

Posted November 21, 2019 by Maire in Book Reviews, Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Cover: The Killer Across the Table by John E. Douglas

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on in the mind of a killer, John E. Douglas is the guy to listen to. In The Killer Across the Table, Douglas gives insight gleaned from his years with the FBI, talking with killers about their motivations.

The Killer Across the Table: Beyond the big names.

Twenty years after his famous memoir, the man who literally wrote the book on FBI criminal profiling opens his case files once again. In this riveting work of true crime, he spotlights four of the most diabolical criminals he’s confronted, interviewed and learned from. Going deep into each man’s life and crimes, he outlines the factors that led them to murder and how he used his interrogation skills to expose their means, motives, and true evil. Like the hit Netflix show, The Killer Across the Table is centered around Douglas’ unique interrogation and profiling process. With his longtime collaborator Mark Olshaker, Douglas recounts the chilling encounters with these four killers as he experienced them—revealing for the first time his profile methods in detail. 

Going step by step through his interviews, Douglas explains how he connects each killer’s crimes to the specific conversation, and contrasts these encounters with those of other deadly criminals to show what he learns from each one. In the process, he returns to other famous cases, killers and interviews that have shaped his career, describing how the knowledge he gained from those exchanges helped prepare him for these.

A glimpse into the mind of a man who has pierced the heart of human darkness, The Killer Across the Table unlocks the ultimate mystery of depravity and the techniques and approaches that have countered evil in the name of justice.

Not your normal serial killer book

Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters: Jamie want big boom
I love this picture. You have no idea.

What’s interesting about The Killer Across The Table are the subjects. Let’s be honest: people read true crime to hear about the big-name serial killers. Humans truly are a morbid lot. It’s like watching the Mythbusters for the explosions. Like Jamie Hyneman, we want big boom.

Content Warning: Book contains graphic depictions of kidnapping, molestation, rape, murder, and all sorts of other mean, nasty, ugly things.

This book focuses on four lesser-known killers. A socially awkward schoolteacher, a doting uncle, a hospital worker, and a successful entrepreneur. You probably know people who fit those same descriptions. I may have described your brother, your co-worker, or your grandson. That’s the other thing that attracts us to stories about serial killers: They could be anyone.

John E. Douglas spends a section of the book talking about each of his subjects. He compares them to familiar “big name” killers, then talks about what makes that subject unique. It’s like he’s giving the recipe for what makes the particular killer tick. Take two shots of Gacy, add in a little essence of Dahmer, shake well and serve over ice. There’s a logical scale that can be used to mark a killer’s preferences and aptitudes. Douglas has no difficulty finding where to file them.

Doing right by the victims

The good news, if you can call it that, is Douglas never loses sight of the victims. He never forgets that the interests of the victim should always come first. For instance, he details how the first example in the book caused the founding of a charitable organization and new US laws.

At times, yes, the subject matter does get dramatic. That’s part of the nature of true crime. At no time does that drama overshadow the effects of these killers’ actions.

Let it go. Wait. Maybe not.

I listened to the Audiobook version of The Killer Across the Table. Jonathan Groff, who plays John E. Douglas’s counterpart on the Netflix show Mindhunter, is the narrator. He does a wonderful job, using the same acting chops in his vocal performance as in his TV show.

Anyone who has been reading my blog’s weekly wrap-up lately has probably seen how amused I am that the actor who voices Kristoff from Disney’s Frozen is the narrator. It’s like the light and dark sides of Jonathan Groff. Consider it a value-add 😉

Summary

If you’re looking for the same old book about the same old serial killers, you’re only going to get half of what you want. If you’re looking to hear something different while retaining a link to the old standbys, this is your book. I definitely recommend the audiobook for folks who need to keep their attention on the road or whatever other activities require they not be actively “reading” a book.

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