I’ve killed no one. I’ve ordered no one to be killed. These children who come to you with their knives, they’re your children. I didn’t teach them, you did. – Charles Manson
Meet No Sympathy. He’s cold, blunt, uncaring, unfeeling. You aren’t going to like him. A man without a conscience, he appears to be totally emotionless. He’s the person for whom most of our explicit swear words were coined – Ruth Minshull
In The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris describes it concisely. He lives down in a ribcage in the dry leaves of a heart. For within the serial killer, there is no true heart. Or is it that there is no “soul” – that part of us that discerns right from wrong, love from hate, compassion from brutality? What causes a person to become a serial killer, really?
While my work at UC during my Masters training balanced the ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ controversy, Coriell has done brilliant job writing about the ‘nurture’ philosophy of psychopathy and serial killers. Her research is beautifully done, concise, and realistic as is her character development. The Broken draws you in and leaves you breathless, turning page after page, engrossed in the story, drawing you along into a world of pain and brutality – and yet doing so with such a deft hand that, rather than being stomach churning, it is instead deeply affecting, reaching into your heart and soul and raising questions which will stay with you long after the last page is turned.
Referencing one of my favorite short articles on child abuse and psychopathy, Lylah M. Alphonse1, states: The groundbreaking HBO documentary “Child of Rage” years ago showed how horrific abuse and neglect could leave a child unable to bond with other people, turning them into children “without conscience, who can hurt or even kill without remorse.” In other words: the child becomes a psychopath. Extreme physical and sexual abuse and neglect can certainly cause the detached, calculating demeanor and lack of a sense of conscience shared by the serial killer. For the layman, this is one of the easiest articles on the syndrome to read and understand, and it points out quite elegantly how simple it is to take that small step to becoming a monster. And yet, the conversion of a brutalized child to a serial killer isn’t a given, and in Shelly Coriell’s brilliant The Broken, the brutality suffered by three very different children results in three very different outcomes. Outcomes that are horrifying, sad, and deeply, deeply disturbing.
Katrina Erikson had a rough start. Abandoned by her father, she and her younger brother, Jason are raised by a mentally ill mother. Jason is the child whom the mother obsessively dotes upon while alternately neglecting and torturing Katrina. Jason, who slept in his mother’s bed for much too long, and to unknown consequence, while Katrina is locked away in the attic, to be neither heard nor seen.
At a young age Katrina runs away from home, working herself to exhaustion, attending college, then becoming a well-known broadcast journalist. Her life is running smoothly, she is even able to set aside for long periods the memories of her youth. Until, that is, she is attacked, stabbed twenty-four times, and left for dead on her bedroom floor. And the thing is – she knows who did it. She knows – and yet no one will believe her.
When we first meet Katrina, she is “Kate” a loner who has traveled the back roads on her motorcycle for the last three years, rarely speaking to anyone, running from the butcher who searches for her in order to finish what he has begun. But there is someone else looking for her too . . .
Hayden Reed is looking for Katrina – because Hayden Reed believes. And he believes for a horrific reason. You see, Hayden Reed is an FBI agent – an FBI agent who is on the trail of the Broadcast Butcher, a serial killer who slaughters beautiful broadcast journalists by stabbing them many, many times. And Hayden knows that Katrina was his first victim. He knows, even though the police didn’t believe her, didn’t believe she knew who attacked her, didn’t believe that the attacker would return. When Hayden finally tracks Kate down, he attempts to bring her in as a material witness, to drag her into witness protection – to force her to relive her own personal hell on earth.
One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Hayden first tells Kate he is “sorry” for what he is going to put her through. She responds, “You’re sorry? . . . For what? For the scars that disfigure my face and body? For the ineptitude of your law enforcement brothers? For believing in a system that doesn’t work?” When his only response is, “It works.” Her reply was a gut wrenching, and oh so true statement. “Like hell it does! It’s a broken system, a broken world, Agent Reed, shattered and ugly and full of evil.” It is so easy for a man like Hayden, a true believer in the perfection of the system of “justice” to overlook all of the failures of society and the legal system – and so easy for a broken Kate to have no belief in the system that failed her so brutally.
What happens in The Broken is a breathtaking race against time, as the body count rises and the Butcher gets closer and closer to his goal of finding Katrina. Finding her, and killing her – “the one who got away.” The writing is tight, leading you from one moment to the next, never giving away too much, never going overboard with the violence, which is mostly ‘off screen’ and yet holds your attention and drags you further into the story. You become a part of the darkness, of the heinous acts of a true “Butcher” – and of the huge disconnect between what one would wish justice to be – and what it truly is.
“Why didn’t you report the second attack?”
“What would the police say? ‘Ooops! Sorry we screwed up. We’ll do better next time’? I didn’t report the attack, Agent Reed, because it wouldn’t make a difference.”
This is a Very Highly Recommended Read for the lover of suspense, mystery, thrills and chills. I received this book from Netgalley in return for an honest review. And, honestly? It is going on my “Keepers” shelf!
1 http://tinyurl.com/nasakt4 Lylah M. Alphonse – Senior Editor, Yahoo! Shine | Parenting – Mon, May 14, 2012 6:14 PM EDT