Crime Fiction Lovers: An investigation…

I’ve loved reading psychological thrillers and crime fiction (and crime non-fiction, but that’s a post for another day) for as long as I can remember.

I’m pretty sure it started with Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs – specifically the character of Hannibal Lecter and his almost supernatural ability to read other people (and expertly use that information against them). There’s a reason the film did so well, and it’s not just because of that weird noise Anthony Hopkins made.

And I’m definitely not alone in this. That perfect combination of murder, mystery and suspense are gifts for crime fiction lovers all over the world.

But, why? How come so many ‘nice’ people love reading about human depravity and breaking the law?

I think there are five broad reasons for this.

1. Crime fiction lovers can vicariously experience extreme situations

You know that whole cliché about people slowing down on the road to stare at an accident? The mangled cars, the ambulance, the poor souls who may or may not be injured? Well, people absolutely do this, and I think crime fiction taps into a similar instinct.

Take the central relationship between the main characters in Gone Girl (an almost literal car crash relationship), or the horrific crimes committed by Jeffrey Deaver’s Bone Collector. Through reading, we get to simultaneously witness and experience these extreme relationships and events, and allow ourselves to think about how we could avoid them in real life.

There may even be an element of trying to work out what we would do if we ever found ourselves in those situations.  How would we escape?  Would we get untied in time?

Would we – could we – kill to get free?

Crime fiction – especially when written in the first person – allows us to experience these horrors as if they were our own lives.

And speaking of horror…

2. Psychological thrillers: Exciting, terrifying, and… um… safe

There’s a reason that people (other people, definitely not me) spend so much money on roller-coaster rides and extreme sports. It’s a way to allow fear to grab us by the adrenal glands and squeeze them until our bodies are flooded with fight-or-flight juice. But, and this a very important but (stop laughing, I didn’t say ‘butt’), it’s perfectly safe.

And, more importantly, we know that it’s perfectly safe.

In the same way, we can read about the mind of a serial killer, or the machinations of some psychopathic villain, or the wanton violence of a cornered criminal, and we can allow ourselves to feel fear knowing that, ultimately, we’re completely safe.

For some weird reason, as human beings we want to experience fear – albeit only if we know there’s no actual threat. It’s the difference between watching a documentary about shark attacks, and jumping into a pool with one.

3. Thrillers are neater than reality

I completely agree with those who say that life is stranger than fiction.

(Judging by recent world events, this is a very difficult proposition to argue against.)

Fictional stories generally have a defined beginning, middle and end. On the other hand, real life isn’t constrained by anything. There are plenty of true stories that, if they were featured in a work of fiction, would be considered too unbelievable to be plausible.

There’s a criminal case – Dudley v Stephens – which I studied during my law degree. Dudley and Stephens were shipwrecked with a man named Richard Parker, who quickly fell into a coma.  Dudley and Stephens decided to eat Richard to stay alive. Long-story-short, they survived, got back to land and were subsequently tried for (and convicted of) murder.

The unbelievable part of all this is that Edgar Allen Poe had written this very same incident into a novel fifty years earlier. Even the name of the unfortunate victim was the same – Richard Parker.

Can you imagine reading a book where a very specific set of events occur, and then later in the book a character discovers that someone wrote the exact same scenario half a century earlier, and that the victim had the same name?  You’d think it was stretching credulity just a bit too far.

And as well as being neater than reality, crime fiction also seems more ‘just’. The end of most thrillers is that the ‘goodies’ win and the ‘baddies’ lose, which is more satisfying than what we often see in reality.

Again, if you want to proof of this just take a look at world events.  No wonder we want to read stories where the bad people get their comeuppance, and the good people ride off into the sunset.

4. Crime fiction is interesting and, yes, educational

Police procedurals and detective stories are huge, with millions of readers buying them each year. We love reading about the inner workings of law enforcement departments and peeking behind the curtain of criminal investigations. I do anyway, which is why I love the books of Ian Rankin and Michael Connelly – both experts in this genre.

Similarly, psychological thrillers show us the psyche of seemingly unfathomable killers, or help us to understand the circumstances which might result in a ‘normal’ individual being pushed too far and committing murder.

Yes, it’s fictional, but isn’t the most effective crime fiction grounded in reality?  My crime novel The Artist may be a work of fiction, but it’s based on my own experiences as an actor combined with my study of forensic psychology.  There’s nothing in the book that couldn’t happen, even though – as far as I know (and hope) – it hasn’t occurred in reality.

Also, what better way to understand another’s point of view in the real world than stepping into their shoes through fiction?

Which leads us nicely to the last point…

5. Prison break!

Crime fiction and psychological thrillers allow us to escape our reality for a little while.

Arguably, this is why any art form exists – for both the creator and the audience.

After a long day at work, or during a seemingly endless commute, or in the twenty minutes that you know – hope! – the baby will actually stay asleep, you get to escape into another world. Admittedly the world in which you escape with crime fiction isn’t always the most pleasant, but as we said above, you know it’s perfectly safe.

So you can experience the dark side of a city you’ve never visited,  learn about the intricacies of crime investigation, spend time with the most depraved killers, and have a million other experiences you would never otherwise be exposed to.

And you get to do it all without leaving your chair or, y’know, having to actually investigate – or commit – a crime.  Not bad for the price of a coffee, is it?

So what do you think? Why do YOU enjoy crime fiction and psychological thrillers?

For a limited time you can download a FREE copy of short crime story Killing Time.

Click here to find out more

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Win a signed copy of my new thriller!

As of today, Goodreads are running a giveaway to win a signed copy of my psychological thriller Victim Mentality!

To be in with a chance of winning click here to enter.

After the closing date (14 June) Goodreads will get in touch with the winner, and I’ll write something hilarious/profound/lame inside the book, then sign it and send it to the lucky person!

 (If you’ve already got the book/couldn’t care less about psychological thrillers, do feel free to share this with anybody else who might want a signed copy.)

 Good luck everyone!

New novel – Available now!

My new psychological thriller is now officially available!

(Cue blurb…)

Life isn’t funny anymore for stand-up comedian Nick. His support group doesn’t like him, his girlfriend doesn’t like him, and his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder definitely doesn’t like him.

Wanting to be taken seriously as an actor, Nick lands a role in a film and meets up with an incarcerated criminal in order to get into character.

Enter Gideon Matthias.

Gideon is a force of nature possessing brawn, brains, and an almost preternatural gift of perception. A man who beats a fellow inmate to death while describing the emotions they’re feeling.

Nick finds Gideon both dangerous and fascinating, and is deeply affected by his philosophy that everyone is a victim of their own minds.

As Nick contends against the invisible enemies in his mind, Gideon contends against the very much visible enemies in the jail – one of which he has crossed too many times.

The two men fight to survive in their respective arenas until Gideon decides to take action. He seeks out his new friend, and their paths cross as Gideon seeks revenge for the past.

A past that Nick wasn’t even aware of…

 

Victim Mentality is available at the introductory price of £1.99/$2.99 (ebook only, paperback to follow).

So, y’know, buy it!  Then I can afford to write the next one!

Click here to get your copy!

George, OCD and a shot in the dark…

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Every so often, while either researching something for a novel/short story (or just generally wasting time on the internet), I stumble across an interesting case that I can’t get out of my head.

It happened with Brandon Swanson, it happened with Elisa Lam, and now it’s happened with a man named (by the British Journal of Psychiatry) as George.

George and OCD

At the age of 19, George was depressed.

In fact, that’s an understatement.

George had been plagued with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for years, spending hours every single day washing his hands, taking four-hour showers, checking doors and windows were locked, and checking his wallet for cash. As is common with OCD, he was tortured by intrusive thoughts of horrific scenarios and terrible images – all tailor-made by his own mind to be as disturbing as possible. The subsequent rituals and compulsive behaviours he developed to mitigate the impact of the thoughts soon became their own reward, strengthened over and over again through a lifetime of repetition and a feeling of relief when carrying them out. Operant conditioning in full effect.

As the character Nick in my novel Victim Mentality says:

Giving in to anxiety becomes its own reward, so you become less able to deal with it when it comes.  OCD, in a very real way, feeds off itself.  Imagine having a constant slideshow of trauma in your head, with each personalised scenario more horrific than the next. There’s only so much you can take before you give in and just count the bloody numbers to make it all stop.

(And yes, this was the novel I was researching when I came across this story about poor old George.)

As things continued, they got so bad for George that not only did he drop out of school, he also quit his job. The combination of the intrusive thoughts, the compulsive rituals, the knowledge that he was being completely illogical (as is common with OCD), and now the triple loss of social life, further education, and income, became a perfect storm of conditions that tipped George over the edge.

Falling into the black hole of depression and finding himself irresistibly crushed on all sides by it’s darkness, he told his mum that his life was so “wretched” that he just wanted to die.

Her response – which possibly took her out of the running for Mother of the Decade – was that if his life was so bad, he should just go and shoot himself.

So, one night in 1983, he did.

George, OCD and a Gunshot

Using a .22-caliber rifle, he went down to his mother’s basement, aimed the weapon at his head, and pulled the trigger.

George didn’t die, obviously.  This would be both a very short and very bleak story if he did.

What did happen is that the bullet lodged into his brain – in the left frontal lobe.

He was rushed to hospital and worked on by surgeons, who managed to remove the majority of the bullet but were unable to remove every little piece.

Three weeks later, George – who as we know had been plagued by OCD so severely that he saw no alternative to suicide – was cured.  He was no longer obsessive.  No more compulsive hand-washing, no more four-hour long showers, no more incessant checking and re-checking.  Nothing.

Interestingly, for over a year prior to his suicide attempt, George had been treated on an ongoing basis by psychiatrist Dr Leslie Solymon. He had undergone IQ tests and various other assessments of his mental capacities, which helpfully gave a huge amount of data with which to compare his abilities after the suicide attempt.

Comparing the data, Dr Solymon saw that George hadn’t lost anything, except for his OCD.

George went back to college and excelled in his studies, got a new job, and basically lived the life that he had always wanted to.

George, OCD, a Gunshot and… a cure?

Historically, an extreme treatment for OCD was – and sometimes still is – surgery on the sufferer’s left frontal lobe. (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, possibly in combination with medication, is the preferred treatment for obvious reasons).  Even though the surgery would sometimes be successful, it often came with horrific side effects, such as massive personality changes, paralysis, and cognitive impairment.

For some even unluckier souls, they didn’t survive the surgery at all.

Of the successful cases, the OCD symptoms wouldn’t just disappear either.  In most cases they would be improved after the surgery, and then gradually get better and better over time, which makes George’s total and immediate ‘cure’ even more incredible.

By accidentally aiming at exactly the right spot, at exactly the right time, and with the exact right ‘tool’, George had performed surgery on himself.

He’d given himself an accidental lobotomy.

And it had worked.

(Just to be clear, I’m not advocating self-surgery here, and especially not with, y’know, a gun.)

It’s difficult to know what to make of all this.  If there is a moral to this story it’s hard to know what it could be.  Attempted suicide might help in unexpected ways?  You can cure yourself of OCD?  Sometimes a gun will solve your problem, but only if you aim at yourself?

Realistically, there is probably only one message to take from this story:

Always listen to your mother, kids.

Even if it does sound like she just wants you dead.

Blue

To learn more about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or to get support for yourself or someone else, take a look at OCD Action or OCD-UK 

Blue

 

Victim Mentality is a crime thriller about stand-up comedian Nick and his life with OCD, with comedy audiences, and – worst of all – with a criminal named Gideon Matthias…

Click here to find out more


Goodreads giveaway – win a free paperback!

SLEEP NO MORE NEW ebook COVER ANGELO MARCOS DEC 2015 500 width

As of today, Goodreads are running a giveaway to win a paperback copy of my psychological thriller Sleep No More!

To be in with a chance of winning just click here to enter.

After the closing date (5 Feb) Goodreads will get in touch with the winners, and I’ll send the free books to those lucky, lucky people.

 

 (If you’ve already got the book/couldn’t care less about psychological thrillers, feel free to share this with anybody else who might want a copy.)

 Good luck everyone!

Sudden Strangers: The Capgras Delusion

capgras delusion_angelo marcos blog

Imagine you’re having a conversation with a close family member.

Maybe you’re talking about work, or someone you both know, or an event in the news.

Things are all fine, except for a strange niggling sensation at the back of your mind.  Like a cat scratching at the back door, insisting on being let in.

You can’t quite place what is bothering you, but its there.

Shaking it off, you continue talking, all the while trying to ignore the ferocious scraping of those feline claws.

As the conversation goes on, you slowly – but unmistakably – come to a horrific realisation.

The person you’re talking to is an impostor.

They look like your family member down to the tiniest detail.  They even sound exactly the same.

But they’re an entirely different person.  You know it, even though you don’t quite know how.

Something just feels wrong.

 

This might sound like science fiction – or even a horror film – but it’s not.

It’s a recognised neuropsychological disorder known as the Capgras Delusion.

And it’s really, really weird…

The Condition: The Capgras Delusion (or Capgras Syndrome)

The Capgras Delusion was named after J M J Capgras, a French psychiatrist.  In 1923 he had a patient named Madame M, who was convinced that members of her family had been ‘swapped’ with impostors. Like an oil spill the delusion inexorably spread outwards from its source, smothering her friends and neighbours, and convincing her that they too had been replaced.

There have been numerous cases since.

Some sufferers will suddenly believe that their pet is merely a copy of their ‘real’ pet.  Other sufferers feel that their house – which they may have lived in for decades – is no longer theirs, but is a place that has been constructed to appear to be their home.

It may be an exact copy, but it’s a copy nonetheless.

The Cause of the Capgras Delusion

So what is going on here?

As with the phenomena of sleep paralysis and automatism,we have a collection of theories interspersed with as-yet unanswered questions.

The Capgras Delusion generally occurs in people who have suffered a traumatic head injury, or damage to brain cells for other reasons, for instance through dementia.

There have also been a number of cases documented in people who are suffering from complex mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. (Madame M above had a number of other mental health issues, so the Capgras Delusion didn’t – and generally doesn’t – happen in isolation, but rather alongside other conditions.)

The main theory is that the connections in the brain leading to the amygdala (which plays a primary role in the processing of emotional reactions) have been disrupted through the head injury/brain damage.  This then inhibits the emotional response we would ordinarily feel when viewing something familiar.

This lack of any emotional response then trumps everything else, including intellect.  It’s so unnatural to us as human beings that the only logical explanation is that the person or object is fake.  If that lady was your mother, you’d have had an emotional response.  But you didn’t, so she can’t be.

Interestingly, there have been a number of cases where the person suffering from the Capgras Delusion will think that someone is an impostor in person, but if they hear their voice without actually seeing them – for instance over the phone – then there is no problem.

Treatment of the Capgras Delusion

At present, there is none.

Some sufferers who have developed the delusion through a physical brain injury can sometimes ‘reconnect’ the pathways between perception and emotion. There have also been cases of sufferers with other mental disorders having the Capgras Delusion symptoms alleviated by medication taken for those other disorders.  However, for many sufferers there is nothing that can be done.

Trying to convince a person that they are mistaken often doesn’t work, especially in the cases of dementia or complex mental health conditions where logic and rational argument are largely ineffective.  Distraction techniques can be helpful, but this will vary from one individual to another.

Sadly, this means that the Capgras Delusion is therefore permanent in most cases.

Fortunately its also incredibly rare.

It does make you wonder just who is worse off though – is it the person who feels as though they are surrounded by impostors and the victim of some sinister plot, or is it the ‘impostors’ themselves, who have not only lost their family member to illness/injury, but will likely never be able to convince them that they are who they claim to be?

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Of all the ways to lose a person, death is the kindest.”