After reading Zola’s La Bete Humaine, I must admit that I’m really starting to wonder about this. Virtually all the main characters either consider or resort to murder at some point in the story as a solution to whichever problem is at the forefront of their mind at that moment. For example, Severine dislikes her husband (who has already murdered Gironcourt and got away with it) and wishes to marry Jacques, so she suggests that Jacques murder her husband as he is an obstacle to their happiness. Jacques’ aunt is murdered by her husband so he can steal her inheritance of 1,000 francs. Jacques’ cousin Flore murders scores of people by rigging a train crash because she is jealous of Jacques’ relationship with Severine and wants her out of the way so she can marry Jacques.
And so on. As the killer in Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem would note, there is no style to these murders. They are common and unartistic and beneath the serious killer. One would hope that Peter Ackroyd was being tongue in cheek there, because that’s quite a controversial mindset to promote.
I was struck as I finished the book at how easily everyone simply killed people who got in their way; although it’s very possible that there were elements of northern France in the late nineteenth century who really did behave in such a way, but it really didn’t feel realistic to me – although that said, I realise that it may be an all too realistic representation of life in somewhere like a favela in Rio, for example. In those environments life is all too cheap, so it doesn’t really do to get wrapped up about it.
I suppose reading this so close to finishing Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem has made me realise that in certain quarters, murder is (if you like) a craft, and there is a special satisfaction to creating a masterpiece; even if that masterpiece happens to be a corpse. My years of studying old issues of True Detective have taught me, if nothing else, that there are many serial killers who believe that they are artists and their murders are works of art; and we can see the same thought process in series such as Hannibal. You have those murderers who see value in their work and those who just view it as a means to an end.
Forensic psychology isn’t really my thing, but I did find this aspect interesting. I’m fairly sure there’s a thesis in here somewhere for someone much better placed than me to write it. What do you think?