David King's engrossing and atmospheric examination of French mass murderer and physician Marcel Petiot's life is true-crime noir at its best. Always a cruel and crooked opportunist, Petiot develops into a rapacious executioner in the dark, desperate, and violent world of Nazi-occupied France.
King deftly establishes this world with many fascinating digressions, including a brief look at the development of existentialism, and he implies that the Paris in which Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit
was written was the perfect killing ground for the bold, amoral, brilliant, selfish (and possibly insane) Marcel Petiot.
He immerses the reader in horror on page one: "The smoke had begun five days before, but now, in the unusually warm weather, it was getting worse. In the air was a nauseating smell described variously as burnt caramel, burnt rubber, or a burnt roast of...
Beyond the Book
In 1963, New Zealand forensic psychiatrist John Marshall Macdonald published a paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry
called "The Threat to Kill." This paper described three behaviors - bedwetting past age 5, cruelty to animals, and the setting of fires - as "red flag" indicators of sociopathy and future episodic, aggressive behaviors. In combination, these childhood activities have become known as the "Macdonald Triad" and have often been associated with serial killers and other violent criminals. (Petiot, like Jeffrey Dahmer, was viciously cruel to animals). While not all convicted serial killers demonstrate these behaviors, the Triad seems to predict anti-social tendencies. But what causes the Triad? Do we choose to be evil, do outside forces make us evil, or is being...