This book was the January non-fiction selection for the book club I run on Goodreads.com for fans of the My Favorite Murder podcast. Fans of the show Mindhunter on Netflix may recognize bits of this book from the show (as well as the book of the same name, obviously). This should not be surprising since both Ressler and John Douglas, the author of Mindhunter were founding members of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico and have traveled extensively interviewing some of America’s most brutal murderers as well as giving training seminars to Law Enforcement Officers in the hopes that serial murders and stranger murders will be easier to identify and solve.
Ressler gives details of his early life in the military and then the FBI. The post Hoover years were a time of change and he found himself having to do a balancing act between following Bureau protocol and plowing head using the adage “it’s better to get forgiveness than permission.” But the effectiveness of criminal profiling as a law enforcement tool proved to be undeniable. By the 1990s, FBI profilers had a someone glamorous, if not entirely accurate image in pop culture. He also relates some of his interviews with some of the most infamous American serial killers and uses the lessons learned from them to illustrate some of the major points in criminal profiling. Where the book falters, in my view is in Ressler’s arrogance. Granted, a certain arrogance is probably required to buck FBI tradition and go full steam ahead with a program that was unheard of at that point. But it would have been nice to hear about times when Ressler had been wrong about something or how he’d learned from past mistakes instead of how he was constantly showing up other profilers and local experts.
Overall this book gave me a greater understanding of the evolution of the Behavioral Science Unit and how criminal profiling developed as a discipline. Many of the anecdotes can be seen in the show Mindhunter but there is lots of new information in there. Despite the title, there is never indication that Mr. Ressler ever had any concerns about becoming a monster of the Abyss staring back at him. It lacks the ingredient that all great memoirs contain; a dose of humility and self examination.