Nancy Pickard is the award-winning author of The Virgin of Small Plains and Seven Steps on the Writer's Path (from 2008)
WHY THEY KILL by Richard Rhodes
Means, motive, and opportunity are the three classic clues in a crime story, but they bore me, even though I’m a mystery writer.
may point to a killer, but they’re a shallow approach to thinking about
violent crime. Much more interesting, at least to me
is the deeper issue of why and how people become victims or perpetrators.
most believable explanation I’ve ever read of how a person becomes a
violent criminal is contained in Richard Rhodes' book about the
biography and theories of the criminologist, Lonnie H. Athens, PhD. The
book, Why They Kill, came out in 1999
Knopf, and failed to catch on with the general public even though
Rhodes is a Pulitzer Prize winning author of big, important books. I
think the problem with this book is two-fold: it is awkwardly balanced
between biography and reportage, when it might have been more smoothly
mixed, and the main thrust of Athens’ discoveries goes against the grain
thinking on the subject. Take this sentence, for instance:
Violentization is an authentic developmental process, and unless someone has undergone it . . he will not become a dangerous violent criminal.
If that bold and unequivocal statement catches your attention, then you may want to read the entire book that supports it.
own copy is heavily underlined, asterisked, and highlighted. It has
changed forever the way I view certain clichés such as the “nice
guy/good neighbor” killer or the “bad seed” criminal.
The contents of Why They Kill are startling, revealing, and could be revolutionary if enough people paid attention to them.
I don’t think that will happen, but I appreciate this chance to give this book a little boost from the sidelines.