Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Winter 2004

15 Serial Killers by Harold Jaffe

15 Serial Killers
Harold Jaffe
Raw Dog Screaming Press
Hyattsville, MD
176 pp. $13.95


Harold Jaffe is nothing if not a straight shooter, and in 15 Serial Killers, his latest series of “docufictions,” he hits his targets with regularity, aplomb, and armor-piercing bullets.

I should admit upfront that we at ALR are not generally fond of fiction based on serial killers. We have found that scores of younger writers raised on the o'erwealth of cinematic representations of this subset of humanity often go straight for the genre thinking it the profoundest way to shock. The truth of the matter is that profundity and shock tend to issue from life and its details, seldom from fanciful fictional constructions. Jaffe's collection of shorts succeeds where so many others fail because it springs from the true-life reality of these diseased and twisted human beings; and though he does often utilize devices of fiction, the author has clearly done his journalistic research, relating the horrifying actions and thoughts of a wide range of the usual suspects—Dahmer, Berkowitz, Speck, Bundy, Gein, Aileen Wuornos of Monster fame, among others. However, not willing to stop at the vicious, typical motley, he adds a few debatable characters as well, like Jack Kevorkian and Henry Kissinger. For most of the standard killers above, the interest springs from their acts more than the mind behind them, and Jaffe does a spectacular job of laying the details before us in  chilling and straightforward reportage. There is no need for florid or poetic language here; all drama (and it is high drama) originates from the almost ineffable horror of truth.

Many of the other docufictions put the reader in the cell with the killer, employing a Q&A format, wherein the killers get to lay out there views and obsessions. While this is chilling as well, it also gives rise to occasional humor—such as Ed Gein's “true” story of banging First Lady Rosalyn Carter back in the day. Jaffe's wit, when he chooses to employ it, is dry, morbid and pertinent. The matter between the covers of 15 Serial Killers is undeniably brutal and profane—not for children or even teenagers. (I think it's safe to say that the high number of incidences of anal sex with corpses, beheaded and otherwise, will, by itself, probably keep this book out of the running for the Newberry Award.) While I had one or two picayune niggles with Jaffe (the use of the “human bean” euphemism in the mouth of more than one serial killer, and the odd appearance of pop icon Madonna on more than one occasion), I have to say that 15 Serial Killers is probably the most encompassing and compelling work on the subject you're likely to read—a genuine pleasure (though given the subject matter I use that term lightly). Recommended without hesitation to those with the constitution for such fare.