cover image "I": The Creation of a Serial Killer

"I": The Creation of a Serial Killer

Jack Olsen, . . St. Martin's, $24.95 (365pp) ISBN 978-0-312-24198-8

Veteran true-crime writer Olsen (Salt of the Earth, etc.) takes the profiling of a psychopath a step farther than usual; drawing on interviews and his subject's own diaries to intimately reveal the life and inner workings of Keith Hunter Jesperson, currently serving life in prison for the murders of eight women in the 1990s. Jesperson was called the "Happy Face Killer" for his token symbol on taunting letters sent to authorities. Cutting between Jesperson's rough rural childhood in the Pacific Northwest (with a hard-drinking, belt-swinging father who put him to work and charged room and board), and his mad glee in hunting down, raping and strangling women, the book plays more like a carefully detailed autobiography than a neutral investigation. While the gruesome details are nailed down with morbid precision, some readers may be disturbed by Olsen's abandonment of the objective narrator's voice in chapters where the first-person account puts the reader right inside the madman's mind—it's a distinctly unpleasant place, where women are "lot lizards" and "bitches" paraded toward rape and death. Even chapters in the third person clearly represent Jesperson's viewpoint. Olsen's writing is clear and concise, but the voyeurism of the murder scenes will disturb some readers, and the attempt to create understanding of a serial murderer might be interpreted by others as an attempt to create sympathy. Eight pages b&w photos not seen by PW. (Aug. 20)