Of my complaints, the one which is gradually creeping its way to the top of the list is as follows: at first, the answer to the mystery of the disappearing girl could have literally been anything. But as the book progresses, it gradually becomes clear that the answer is - surprise! - a serial killer.
Think of all the mysteries in the world which remain unsolved. Wanna know how many of them involve serial killers? Approximately .002% according to my calculations. And yet, in the world of fiction, the solution to a mystery involves a serial killer approximately 83.6% of the time (again, according to my calculations).
At this point, between books and television and movies, fictional serial killers must surely outnumber real-world serial killers 20,000 to 1. According to Wikipedia, only 172 serial killers have been convicted in the United States. (That's a real number. I counted.)
Let's say the real number of serial killers is, I don't know, three times that. That's 516 serial killers in our 234-year history, or approximately 2.2 serial killers per year. According to the New York Times, 10,000 new fiction books are published per year. Let's say that a tenth of those involve a serial killer: that's 1,000 fictional serial killers per year. And that's just books! You add in all the serial killers in TV police procedurals, from "Bones" to "CSI: Boise" and the number becomes truly staggering.
Why are we as a culture so fascinated with serial killers? America has a seemingly indefatigable appetite for watching serial killers do their work, but then slip up and get caught by someone just a little bit smarter and/or more determined to succeed. Because that is what happens, EVERY SINGLE TIME.
"Dexter" is the only potential exception to this rule. But not really, because every time Dexter kills someone, he follows that formula. (Also I have a theory that "Dexter" is more properly categorized with superhero comics and cartoons. In real life, Batman would be considered a serial killer.)
I predict that hundreds of years from now, "it's a serial killer" will be the equivalent of "the butler did it." When you get right down to it, a serial killer is the utmost in author laziness. Back in the day, mystery authors had to come up with motivations for the killer. A reason why they wanted to kill someone. Now? Serial killers kill because they are serial killers. Very convenient for the author.
Surely I can't be the only person who's getting a little tired of the serial killer glut. I consider "Silence of the Lambs" to be the Patient Zero of this particular plague (even though it simply perfected the genre, it certainly didn't invent it). And that's a book which was published 22 YEARS AGO. If it was a person, that book would be old enough to drink. It would be graduating college this spring.
Photo credit: Flickr/Giampaolo Macorig