Earlier this week a major newspaper headlined how husbands were more dangerous than terrorists. Given Russia has just essentially legalized domestic violence and the prevalence of gun related deaths in DV in the USA, love being a killer isn’t just a hypothetical. Crime fiction, and thrillers in particular, have headed towards the domestic noir. Here’s some of my thoughts on when love goes wrong – did a live FB of this with #mysterythrillerweek which still goes for another 10 days so check it out.
Stalkers make good villains in psychological thrillers because they can be scary…and sitting in the safety of the arm chair we want to be scared, but know that we (and ultimately our hero/heroine) will survive. Of course some authors will play with this a bit and allow a character you have followed to die, so be careful who you identify with! They also make good villains because they are closer to home than serial killers who overpopulate crime books, certainly with respect to the real number; even if we haven’t been stalked we hear about it in the news, and there’s always some slightly creepy person (next door neighbour, ex-partner, guy who looked at you weirdly in the train) that helps set the imagination off. Also, as many stalkers do know the victim, this takes us into our homes where we can get really, really scared.
There are five types of stalker (classified by Mullen, an Australian Professor of forensic psychiatry).
- Rejected partner – occurs after the breakdown of a relationship and the stalker is ambivalent, angry at times but at others wants to try and resume the relationship
- Resentful – the stalker perceives some real or imagined mistreatment and seeks revenge
- Intimacy seeking—lonely, often mentally ill, includes the “erotomania”
- Incompetent—want a date or sexual relationship but are insensitive/ poor social skills
- Predatory—less of these than the others in the real world but overrepresented in fiction and these ones end up in prison: the psychopaths, usually male and targeting female who they have not met.
In MEDEA’S CURSE I use a stalker to drive the tension: Natalie King is a forensic psychiatrist, so she knows about the above types and the risks…so when the stalking escalates from notes at her work to notes at her home and then a break in, she knows she’s in trouble…
A parent’s love: why do some parents murder?
This is, fortunately, rare, but as a professor of perinatal psychiatry, this is my area of expertise—and worldwide, with the exception of African-American men in the USA between 20-35, the highest risk of being murdered in in the first day then first year of life. My forensic work is largely with women who commit neonaticide (infant in the first 24 hours after birth, usually with a hidden pregnancy) or infanticide (killing your child under the age of twelve months in most jurisdictions that have this law). I also do abuse cases and parenting assessments. A nasty custody case is the basis of the third Natalie book due out early next year, This I Would Kill For.
With respect to mothers who are involved in these cases (fathers and stepfathers become more common perpetrator as the child gets older; in custody battles they may kill themselves and their wives as well), there are a number of factors involved. Originally the infanticide law was put in place for social reasons in the UK when there was no social supports and servant women were unable to care for babies (and were often pregnant against their will to the master of the house) and the infanticide law allowed some mercy (it is treated as manslaughter, and in some places/times no gaol time is done). Certainly unwanted babies are still left to die in third world countries, but also in the western world – often in neonaticide cases, by poorly educated, young, naïve women fearful of being judged and with poor problem solving abilities.
In infanticide a number of other factors come into play—psychosis, intellectual disability, drug abuse and depression with complex social factors in particular. Rarely a Munchausen’s by proxy may be in play. In MEDEA’S CURSE Natalie in pulled into a missing child case where the man’s previous partner was convicted of infanticide…and I open up the world of complex interplay of relationships and expectations postnatally on women. There is also a case in the background of possible Munchausen’s or personality disorder.
Narcissistic Love: when he/she just won’t let you go…because they own you and you owe them…
There’s a lot talked about and written in narcissism of late. Anne Manne explores it in The Life of I. She starts off citing Anders Breivek (the man who committed the massacre in Norway, brilliantly written about by Asne Seierstad in One of Us)—his massacre had nothing to do with love, but he does highlight why narcissists turn up in crime fiction.
All of us have personality features that make us who we are—and even those with narcissistic traits don’t necessarily have a personality disorder. But under stress our worst often comes to the surface—and there can be a lot of stress in relationships, so love can indeed go wrong when someone does have a narcissistic personality disorder. These people feel easily slighted, have a sense of entitlement, and have little regard for others feelings. And narcissistic love is about doing what you are told…and being owned. All is well when you are seen as an extension of them, and do as they desire…but rage, and a dangerous rage, can be the consequence of such acts of treachery as leaving them.
In DANGEROUS TO KNOW I explore this when Natalie tries to help her research supervisor, charming Associate Professor Frank Moreton, deal with the grief of his first wife. She quickly finds herself involved in a family with secrets and the threads of narcissism run deep, back to the patriarchal grandfather.