About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Comparing Serial Killers in Three Totalitarian States

Bernie Gunther, in The Pale Criminal by Philip Kerr, pursues a serial killer in pre-World War II Nazi Germany. I thought of other mysteries involving the investigations of serial killers in dictatorships. It was interesting to compare the fictional approach of Nazi Germany to a serial murderer to the fictional approaches of Stalinist Russia in Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith and contemporary Communist China in Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong.

In The Pale Criminal it is accepted that there is a serial killer. The similarities in the deaths of teenage girls in Berlin are recognized by the Berlin police and the Nazi leadership.

In the U.S.S.R. of the early 1950’s there is a refusal to acknowledge a serial killer can exist in the socialist state killing young boy after young boy in different towns.

In the Communist China of the 1990’s the Party leadership is left with little option for the killer clothes his victims in the classic Red Mandarin dress. Before the economic liberalization the book suggests serial killers were kept secret. However, in the new economy media must support itself and crime, especially garish crime sells well.

The dramatic costuming of the victims creates a media frenzy. The population is utterly absorbed by the murders.

For the Nazis it is important to catch the real killer. Reinhard Heydrich, among the most ideological of the top leaders, explains to Bernie that they must find the killer as family is at the heart of the Nazi state.

In Russia the State is not concerned if the real killer is caught. As long as someone is caught the mirage of the perfect socialist state is maintained. Local authorities, under intense pressure from central authorities, select, almost at random, a local “undesireable” to be charged,  convicted and executed.

For Communist China as with the other regimes the presence of a serial killer is an affront to the honour of the Party and leadership demands the police find the killer.

In both Germany and Russia the news of the serial killers is kept secret. As bodies mount in each country word is spreading of young people being killed but the state’s crushing grip on media prevents widespread public disclosure.

As set out above the situation is different in Communist China where the state’s iron grip on the media no longer extends to non-political crime coverage.

In Nazi Germany and Communist China extensive resources are committed to the investigations reflecting the determination of the estate to swiftly find the serial killer.

It is Kafkaesque in Russia where the investigation takes place despite the State. The Communist leadership sees an investigation as questioning the system. Leo Demidov and his wife Raisa risk their lives to chase the killers.

In the sensitive investigations Bernie Gunther in Germany and Chief Inspector Chen in China are adroit at managing their relationships with high ranking authorities interested in the investigations. It is not enough to be a good investigator. They must also be skilled politicians.

On the other hand Leo and Raisa are not adept at dealing with the authorities. Still they would have had to go after the Russian killer by subterfuge in any event because of the official denial there is a serial killer.

Without giving any spoilers I found it intriguing that in each of the books the motivations of the killers stemmed from a connection with the ideology of the governing dictatorship. The respective leaderships were right to be concerned that the serial killers were challenging the State by their actions.

It is hard to say you enjoy a book about a serial killer. I was glad that I read each of these books and appreciated how the authors worked their serial killer into the political philosophy of the totalitarian state in which they resided.


  1. What an interesting post, Bill. One of the things I find fascinating about the point you make is the impact of political structure on an investigation. Regardless of the type of official relationship that the police have with other government authorities, what they do is affected by politics. One sees that in William Ryan's Alexei Korolev series, too (although I admit, there isn't a serial killer in those novels). The series takes place in pre-WWII Stalinist Moscow, and it's fascinating to see how political ideology impacts everything.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. While the police services of democracies may struggle with priorities they are never under the influences of ideologically driven totalitarian governments.

  2. That's a very interesting comparison Bill. I like the idea that we can learn so much from our entertaining crime stories...

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I have learned as much about life through mysteries as by non-fiction.

  3. Hi, I found this extremely interesting! I wish others had the minds and interest that we share in this field. I wrote my own blog on the Mindset of a Criminal and was hoping you could give it a read and we can discuss our ideas! http://intothemindsetofacriminal.blogspot.com/