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Literary Glance: Murder Games by James Patterson

July 17, 2017

Nobody takes fictional serial killers seriously anymore.  At least, some authors don’t.  Take Murder Games by James Patterson and Howard Roughan as an example.  It starts off with a prologue from an alleged serial killer’s point-of-view:

So you want to be a serial killer…

Sure you can go around just shooting people, bang-bang, but I’ve found that guns, while sometimes the right tool for the job, often leave me unsatisfied.

“Bang bang?”  How can I take a serial killer seriously when he says “bang bang” in his introduction?  Maybe this guy really isn’t a serial killer and is instead just showing off for the reader.  The narrator of this scene might be unreliable, and I wouldn’t know until the end of the book.  But as an introduction, I can’t take this serial killer seriously.

To be clear, I got tired of serial killers back in the mid-1990s.  In he early 1990s, serial killers were fresh.  Silence of the Lambs was a best-selling novel before it became a cinema blockbuster.  After that, a bunch of serial killer novels came out, and the whole thing got old for me.  Then vampires came along, and serial killers got taken down a peg or two.  Now it’s zombies.

Anyway, serial killers still seem stale to me.  Maybe they’re new again and I’m too out of it to know.  It doesn’t matter because this serial killer in Murder Games has a lousy nickname:

But lately people have taken to calling me The Dealer, which I happen to like, so I’ve taken to it as well.  There’s a nice ring to it.  The Dealer.  Clean.  Authoritative.  Quite proprietary, too, given my methods.  I’d trademark it too, if I could.

I mean, the best serial killers, the ones whom people tend to remember, always have manage to have a good moniker, the kind that seems to suit them perfectly.  Otherwise, what’s the point?

The Dealer.  If that’s not the worst serial killer name ever, it has to be close.   Jack the Ripper, now that was a serial killer name.  Then there’s the Boston Strangler.  Even Hannibal Lechter is a cool name.  But now we’ve resorted to some loser called The Dealer.

The Dealer is definitely not a first-string serial killer, and here’s why.  A ripper rips his victims.  A strangler strangles his victims.  But what does a dealer do?  He gives out cards.  Or he hangs out on a corner looking for customers.

The Dealer sounds like a third-rate super villain in a fill-in issue when the regular comic book artist/writer gets sick.  It’s the loser of a villain Spider-Man beats up in that issue when he’s lost his powers but fights crime anyway.

The worst part is that The Dealer is satisfied with his name.  No self-respecting serial killer would appreciate that name.  Yes, he’s called The Dealer because he leaves a playing card on his victims, but another serial killer has already used the card trick.  That serial killer was named… the Joker.

The Joker is a much cooler serial killer name than the Dealer.  You have to take the Joker seriously because you see the irony in the name.  But the Dealer?  That just gives serial killers a lame reputation.

When I was in high school, we had a gang called The Vipers, and everybody was afraid of them until they graffitied a bunch of stuff as the Vippers.  (“The Vippers wuz here!”  “The Vippers kick ass.”)  Once the school started calling The Vipers The Vippers, their reputation was done.  Even the nerds laughed at The Vippers.  Even when the nerds were getting beat up by The Vipers, they laughed at The Vippers.

Don’t get me wrong, this was a 1970s gang in a town filled with pale guys who had necks of red.  Our gangs didn’t kill people.  But being called The Vippers almost drove them to murder.  Instead, I think they all dropped out and got jobs.

You know serial killers are overdone in fiction when a name like The Dealer is considered acceptable.

Of course, I haven’t read the whole book.  Maybe The Dealer really is a crappy inept serial killer who deserves having a crappy name.  If that’s the case, then the joke is on me.

But either way, I almost feel sorry for fictional serial killers.  Nobody takes them seriously anymore.


What do you think?  Are fictional serial killers stale yet?  Is The Dealer a cool name for a serial killer?  Long live the Vippers!!!

One Comment
  1. This article made me chuckle. I’m not in to serial killer novels per se, but sometimes I like a good thriller or murder mystery to keep variety in my reading habits. And yes, some of the bad guys can come off as ridiculous. I think its more about creating an atmosphere, some unkowns to builds fear and tension and leave the whole gimmick thing about serial killers for media’s interpretation in the universe of the novel. Fear of death and the unexpected is always a far better tool for hooking you into a story than a good hook about a murdering psychopath.

    Great post though – got me thinking for a bit.

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