A Killer by Design: Murderers, Mindhunters, and My Quest to Decipher the Criminal Mind by Ann Burgess

*I received a review copy from Hachette for an honest review.

For those who have read John Douglas’ Mindhunter and Robert Ressler’s Whoever Fights Monsters, you already know Ann Burgess — the psychologist behind the groundbreaking studies which drove the development of criminal profiling as a crime-fighting technique. She’s authored and co-authored several books, but this is the first I’ve come across which provides her point of view before, during, and after the development of those profiling techniques.

This is a fascinating, fast-paced look at Burgess’ experience with the FBI and some of the most striking cases she explored.

It is not for the faint-of-heart. She opens with the murder of two young boys in Nebraska. This case is used to illustrate the profiling process and, as such, contains brutal details — all of which are necessary to understand why the profiling team comes to the conclusions it does.

Burgess’ focus is always on the victim of the crime. We mustn’t forget that there are real people, some still suffering, because of these murderers. As Burgess herself points out, we (true crime fans) often have a tendency to place serial killers on a pedestal — Who is YOUR favorite serial killer? — which is one of the risks with attempting to explain these violent offenders’ reasoning and thought processes during the most transgressive acts one human being can perpetrate on another (rape and murder). But Burgess leaves no doubt that these killers are definitely the bad guys.

While the stories, explanations, and case studies are fascinating in their own right, I personally found the inter-relationships between the profilers almost MORE interesting.

For example, I’d read about Ann Burgess in John Douglas’ Mindhunter many years before, so I already knew who she was and what she’d done…from Douglas’ point of view. In my mind, Douglas has dominated the criminal profiling conversation for decades. His stories have led to multiple bestselling books and one badass Netflix series. It was very intriguing to hear the same stories told from a psychologist’s (and a woman’s) point of view.

View all my reviews

Ann Burgess crime Reviews Serial Killers true crime books

jenny maloney View All →

Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.

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