Have you read The Tell-Tale Heart? Edgar Allen Poe, the father of the modern thriller, published this short story in 1843. My daughter is studying it right now as part of her lit degree. It has stood the test of time because of the intriguing character of its narrator.
He’s a cold, rational, calculating killer. But he’s not a psychopath. Why? Because what eventually drives him insane is guilt.
Psychopaths are without conscience. They cannot and do not feel guilty. About anything. Ever. Does this make psychopaths insane? No. But it makes them very dangerous – and fascinating subjects for fiction.
We tend to think of psychopaths as rare, social anomalies. But one person in twenty five has those same narcissistic traits found in the psychopath. That means most of us have met quite a few of them, men and women, in our everyday lives. They could be the source of your love addiction; the man who treated you like a queen and then went to bed with your best friend; the girlfriend who emptied your bank account and disappeared without warning, leaving your whole life in tatters.
“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” – Hamlet, William Shakespeare
My villain in VENOM was inspired by the infamous ‘Bikini Killer’. Charles Sobrajh, a predator with charm to burn, and a man utterly incapable of remorse.
I’ve been comparing notes recently with a wonderful thriller writer, Diane Capri. We’ve both been researching psychopaths for our latest thrillers and the real life psychopaths that inspired them.
Diane is a former lawyer and editor of the Wayne Law Review. She is now on the board of International Thriller Writers, having written six best-selling legal thrillers as well as Don’t Know Jack and Jack in a Box.
I spoke to Diane about the inspiration for her latest thriller, FATAL DISTRACTION.
‘It was inspired in part by a case in my county years ago. Dubbed The Oakland County Child Killer, it was the largest murder investigation in U.S. history at the time and it’s never been closed. We don’t know who this killer was or where he went or even why he stopped killing. But I’ve always believed someone knows. Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead.”
Psychopaths don’t always kill – but they do destroy lives. (Here’s another story here from two days ago: it’s not only what he did that horrifies – it’s how he still made it all her fault.)
Tell us about the psychopaths you’ve known. We’d love to hear the stories of their tell-tale egos.
How did you escape?