Saturday, April 13, 2013

Five Years of Forgotten Books; Day 13

Nancy Pickard is the award-winning author of The Virgin of Small Plains and Seven Steps on the Writer's Path (from 2008)

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.
They 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.

The 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
from 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 of conventional
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.
My 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.

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