This is the first book to examine murder through the written word--not only the writings of the killers themselves, but also the story of murder as told in literary fiction and the crime dramas that are now a staple of film and television. The authors--a criminologist specializing in cold cases, written evidence, and forensic science, and an anthropologist who has dealt with the signs and ciphers of organized crime and street gangs in his previous work--are widely recognized experts in this emerging specialty field. Based on extensive research and interviews with convicted murderers, the book emphasizes the often-overlooked narrative impulse that drives killers, with the authors explaining how both mass and serial murderers perceive their crimes as stories and why a select few are compelled to commit these stories to writing whether before, during, or after their horrific acts.
The book also analyzes the written work of killers, using a combination of machine-based linguistic patterning, predictive modeling, and symbolic interpretation, to make sense of the screeds of everyone from the Son of Sam and the Zodiac Killer to the Columbine attackers, the Unabomber, and the recent spate of mass shooters using social media as their preferred narrative platform. They present a theoretical perspective of murder that is based on both the criminological evidence and written works. In addition, the authors examine famous literature that has dealt ingeniously with murder and its relationship with real crime, from the Greek tragedians to Truman Capote to modern-day productions such as Making a Murderer.
This unique approach offers a new means to penetrate the minds of murderers, revealing their motives as well as the wider social meanings of this age-old crime and our continuing fascination with it.
About the authors
Bestselling author Michael Arntfield is a veteran police officer, professor, and television host. Known by his students as “Profficer,” an endearing blend of his academic and law enforcement professions, he teaches criminology at Western University and is a previous visiting Fulbright Chair at Vanderbilt University. With fifteen years of experience as a police officer, Arntfield offers a unique perspective into unsolved murder cases that combines suspenseful storytelling, academic knowledge, and investigative technology. He is the lead investigator on the true-crime series To Catch a Killer on the Oprah Winfrey Network in Canada and is the author of Murder City: The Untold Story of Canada’s Serial Killer Capital. He is also Director of the Murder Accountability Project in the United States and both the founder and Director of the Western University Cold Case Society in Canada. When he isn’t teaching, investigating cold cases, or writing about them, he is researching long-term crime trends and developing new television projects. His latest research is on cyberbullying, social media, and psychopathy.
MARCEL DANESI teaches on the history of puzzles at Victoria College of the University of Toronto. Danesi has written puzzles for Reader’s Digest, The Toronto Star, and also maintains a blog on puzzles for Psychology Today. He has also published several best-selling puzzle books, such as The Total Brain Workout and The Complete Brain Workout.
“Words matter. What we say tells us a lot about who we are. From its origins in the Bible to Jack the Ripper, the Iceman, and more, murder is on full display here, as both entertainment and serious moral corruption of the soul. The authors make a compelling argument accessible, leaving us with a true understanding of what the murderer is thinking when he or she puts thoughts on paper to justify the evil he or she has committed. Thrilling, engaging, and unique, Murder in Plain English ranks among the most important books to rise from the dust of the true-crime explosion, as it provides a compelling and original journalistic approach and puts some of the most popular—and perhaps important—material of our day to good use.”
—M. William Phelps, New York Times–bestselling author and award-winning investigative journalist
“Riveting and intellectual. Finally a new (and smarter) spin on understanding the deadliest sin—murder. Many books have been written about murder. Many books have been written about storytelling and the power of words. But no book has put these together. Murder in Plain English will satiate your appetite for true crime while digging into the psychological mind of the killer in his own words.”
—Robin Sax, legal analyst and criminal law attorney
“Arntfield and Danesi have done it again! For the past twenty-five years, the study of murder has been monopolized by the tyranny of quantitative social-science research. In a field that desperately attempts to reduce complex human phenomena to black and white, Arntfield and Danesi dive deep into the gray shades of qualitative research and come up with pearls. With the line between media and reality increasingly blurring, this profound examination of the role of narrative in criminality has never been more timely. A milestone in literary criminology!”
—Lee Mellor, criminologist and author of Homicide: A Forensic Psychology Casebook
“Arntfield and Danesi present a fascinating connection between murder and the written word, taking the reader on a rare psychological journey from ancient writings to modern manifestos. Anyone interested in why murderers commit their heinous crimes will find Murder in Plain English a gripping read.”
—Jack Branson and Mary Branson, authors of Delayed Justice: Inside Stories from America’s Best Cold Case Investigators and Murder in Mayberry: Greed, Death, and Mayhem in a Small Town
“An enlightening and fascinating book. A work of incontestable quality . . . highly recommended.”
—Antonio Nicaso, lecturer in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Queen’s University, and internationally recognized expert on organized crime
Other titles by Michael Arntfield
Other titles by Marcel Danesi
The Ultimate Brain Health Puzzle Book for Adults, Vol. 2
Even More Crosswords, Sudoku, Cryptograms, Word Searches, Logic Grids, and Calcudoku Puzzles!
The Quest for Meaning
A Guide to Semiotic Theory and Practice, Second Edition
Master Your Mind
Critical-Thinking Exercises and Activities to Boost Brain Power and Think Smarter
The Total Brain Workout
450 Puzzles to Sharpen Your Mind, Improve Your Memory & Keep Your Brain Fit
Mathematics in Ten Great Ideas
The 125 Best Brain Teasers of All Time
A Mind-Blowing Challenge of Math, Logic, and Wordplay
From Flappers to Rappers
The Origins, Evolution, and Demise of Youth Culture
The Complete Brain Workout
500 New Puzzles to Exercise Your Brain and Maximize Your Memory
Encyclopedia of Media and Communication
A Brief Introduction