Follow TV Tropes

Following

Serial Killer / Literature

Go To

  • The search for a serial killer in New York City in 1896 is the plot of Caleb Carr's The Alienist.
  • Patrick Bateman from American Psycho is a sadistic sociopath, although he doesn't fit all of the qualifications. For one thing, he might not have actually killed anyone.
  • Cat of Many Tails by Ellery Queen has Ellery being hired as a special investigator to assist the NYPD to catch a serial killer who has been terrorizing New York. Initially, the only pattern Ellery can find in the killer's targets, who vary in sex, race, and marital status, is that each victim is younger than the one before.
  • Advertisement:
  • Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith has one operating in the Soviet Union in the early 1950's. The catch? The killer is the protagonist's brother, Andrei, from whom he was separated as a child. Turns out Andrei was killing his victims the same way that he and his brother killed game for food, in an effort to lure his brother back to him. Not to kill him, just to be with him again. You find out the identity of the killer a while before the end of the book (if you can put the clues together), so it becomes a whydunnit.
  • Subverted in the Agatha Christie novel The ABC Murders, where Hercule Poirot receives a series of letters from 'ABC' threatening to kill a series of victims in alphabetical order and challenging Poirot to unmask him. Alexander Bonaparte Cust is being used as a front by the real killer, who wants to murder his brother for the inheritance and plans to cover it up by disguising it as the act of a serial killer.
  • Many of Michael Connelly's mystery novels involve pursuit of a serial killer.
  • The Corrupted Chronicles of Coco Claramisa features two. The titular character herself, who sets up murders of anybody who ends up being more popular than her, and Bloody Rose, who murders people with depression and leaves a black rose cover in the victims blood as a Calling Card.
  • Advertisement:
  • In Damnatio Memoriae, Enim and Jack are searching for whoever has been killing local girls in the town outside of their boarding school. Enim thinks he finds the killer, but given that he's an unreliable narrator, it's hard to know what really happened.
  • A savage serial killer plagues the city in Dance of the Butterfly. This is but one of many negative forces motivating the protagonists.
  • In part of Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, a woman finds herself on a bridge chased by a serial killer called "The Lonely One" who remembers she has a pair of scissors in her purse.
  • Several Discworld books, most prominently Hogfather, give delicate references to the Assassins' Guild's "scholarship boys"- that is, people who made it into Assassin school by proving they were already very good at discretely killing people. The Guild keeps such scholarships in place not because they approve of indiscriminate slaughter, but because anyone who has a natural aptitude for their kind of work had better damn well be where you can see them.
  • Advertisement:
  • The villain in Dove Keeper, Gilles de Rais, is a serial killer of (mostly) children.
  • The period mystery Eater of Souls is a serial-killer story set in Ancient Egypt. One of the few cases where the "Visionary" variant of this trope is genuinely and plausibly suspected to be legitimately-supernatural by the investigators.
  • In the Fate/Zero novel, the historical hero Gilles de Rais (summoned to the war as Caster) is a visionary serial killer (with aspects of a thrill killer) who kills to spite God for abandoning Jeanne d'Arc. He favours children as his targets. His master, Ryuunosuke, is a sadistic thrill killer who ended up summoning Caster out of curiosity and gleefully follows Caster because he considers him an artist.
  • Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: Prodigal Son has a subplot about a serial killer called the Surgeon, a Hedonist who harvests body parts from women to piece together his "perfect woman". The reader is made aware of his identity fairly promptly; the real mystery is for him, upon learning that there's a Copycat Killer who's stalking him.
  • Karkas, villain of Galaxy of Fear: The Brain Spiders, is a touchy, mercurial murderer who's killed at least ninety one people and cut a K into the forehead of each of them.
  • Saxon Hyde from Ghoul by Michael Slade, and the Headhunter, among others. All of the author's novels include a Serial Killer at the centre of the plot, but also discuss cases of Real Life killers such as Ted Bundy and Ed Gein. Slade is the pseudonym for Jay Clarke, a lawyer who specializes in criminal insanity.
  • In the Flannery O’Connor short story, A Good Man Is Hard To Find, a serial killer called "The Misfit" and minions meet up with a family, whose matriarch tries to talk her way out but it does not work out for her.
  • " The Hunter" from Gun Machine has over two hundred kills to his name, performed over a series of twenty years, using "appropriate" pre-used guns to kill every target. He is eventually revealed to be a visionary mission killer: The Hunter is a delusional psychotic attempting to make a wampum pattern out of his murder weapons that he believed would kick-start the Ghost Dance and return Manhattan to its pristine pre-colonization state.
  • Hannibal Lecter is the definitive serial killer series, in that almost every fictional serial killer since has been inspired by the two examples in the movie.
    • Hannibal Lecter himself is a cultural icon. He's a well-educated man, a famous psychiatrist, and a genius who sometimes helps out the protagonists. His cold eyes are the only signs that he is a serial killing cannibal. Although in the book (but not the film), he has maroon eyes and six fingers on one hand.
    • Francis Dolarhyde from Red Dragon (the first of the Lecter novels) and the movie Manhunter is a gruesome one, complete with scrapbook of newspaper clippings and drawings from when he was a kid, reflecting his Freudian Excuse. Rather than sending taunting letters to the cops, he sent fan letters to the incarcerated Hannibal Lecter himself.
    • Buffalo Bill from the second book, The Silence of the Lambs, is a complete maniac who kills and skins five women. Although feminine and very disturbing, he is a fairly generic serial killer. Buffalo Bill is actually a combination of real life serial killers Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, and Gary Heidnik.
  • Oscar Yeager, the protagonist (for lack of a better term) of Hunter, is a white supremacist serial killer, targeting mixed race couples and their children. He later broadens his targets to liberal journalists and government officials, and inspires several copycat killers.
  • Serial killers are the main subject of I Am Not a Serial Killer. The protagonist, John, is obsessed with true crime, making him conveniently capable of doing his own snooping when a string of murders begins in his hometown. Each book showcases a different killer with different motivations and methods, contrasted with John’s attempts to remain moral. By the middle of the fourth book, John himself qualifies, despite his efforts.
  • Gretchen "the Beauty Killer" Lowell, first introduced in Heartsick, has tortured and killed over 200 people, whether alone or by manipulating her lovers into killing for her.
  • In The Hellfire Club by Peter Straub, Dick Dart is most definitely this, despite how much he hates being called this by the media.
  • A staple of the In Death series from the first book, Naked In Death, which features a serial murderer of Disposable Sex Workers. This turns out to be not quite a straight example — the first killing was unplanned and personal, and the other murders were committed by a different person to cover up the first by framing it as the work of a serial. However, NYPSD psychiatrist and profiler Dr. Mira has no doubts that, now that he's gotten a taste for it, the murder will absolutely find excuses to kill again. Over the following 52 novels and novellas in the series, Eve has gone up against nearly every type on the list.
  • No actual serial killer appears in Into The Hinterlands, but Destry borrows techniques used to investigate them such as geographic profiling in an attempt to analyze patterns in Rider raids on settlements and locate their encampments.
  • James Bond
    • Grant from From Russia with Love has urges to kill during the full moon, and went working for the Soviets to be able to continue to do so. He became a SMERSH agent, and they use him as their chief executioner.
    • The Big Bad of Never Send Flowers is a serial killer who specializes in arranging high-profile assasinations.
  • Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami, has a strange example: a character known as Johnny Walker (very strongly implied if not proven to be the dad of the main character, Kafka.) Why is it strange? Instead of people, he kills cats, and eats their hearts.
  • Mr. Harvey from The Lovely Bones, for a pedophilic example.
  • Martin Vanger from The Millennium Trilogy defies all stereotypes and all rules on top of this page. He is the kindly CEO of a corporation, a nice but troubled guy, and a friend who even saves the protagonist's life. And he is a serial killer who has been imprisoning, raping, and murdering hundreds of young Russian girls. This has been going on since he was a teenager. The most chilling thing is Martin's explanation for his actions: "This is every man's innermost dream. I take whatever I want".
  • The Roman Empire setting of the Marcus Didius Falco novels might strike some as an odd place for a serial killer, but Three Hands in the Fountain has one anyway. Then again, the thoroughly modern sensibility of the series makes it work.
  • Annie Wilkes from Misery is an "Angel of Death" example. She was a nurse, and killed many old patients, and later, babies in the hospitals she worked in.
  • Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi has the title character, a charming, wealthy aristocrat who is revealed to have killed hundreds of young women that he keeps in a chamber in his estate.
  • Two stories in Stephen King's Night Shift features a serial killer: "Springheel Jack" in Strawberry Spring and the hammer murderer in The Man who Loved Flowers. In both, the protagonist is the killer; in the former it's a case of The Killer in Me, in the latter an extreme example of Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick.
  • John Dread, from Tad Williams' Otherland series, was raised by a violent, drug-addicted mother who fulfilled her revenge fantasies against the world by intentionally turning him into a sociopath. He started killing as early as 6, was moved from institution to institution and deemed "incorrigible", and finally escaped into society after Corrupt Corporate Executive Felix Jongleur noticed his abnormal psychic powers and began training him as a Psycho for Hire. He murders women for pleasure in fetishistic ways (acting out a Revenge Fic against his mother) and records all the killings in his private video library. He taunts the police by leaving bizarre clues at the scene and "fogging" security cameras with his "twist". He chafes at Jongleur's leash, and eventually breaks free by infiltrating the heroes' group in Otherland and discovering how to break the network's security, upon which point he proves how Eviler Than Thou he is by going on a godlike killing spree.
  • Throughout the events of Perdido Street Station, there's background snippets of reports about a serial killer who's been murdering people to steal their eyes before dumping their bodies in the city's waterways. It's heavily implied that said serial killer doesn't really exist. When the New Crobuzon militia captures Benjamin Flex, they interrogate him and than kill him to keep him from spilling any information. The next day, Flex's body is found dumped in a river with his eyes cut out; the official investigation releases a report that the killer has struck again, hinting that the serial killer angle is just a cover story, made to help hide the militia's experiments with the slakemoths.
  • In Beka Cooper, Deirdry Noll as the Shadow Snake is a comfort/profit killer. Her modus operandi is to find an otherwise poor family who has some small item of value (an enamel-on-gold lily pendant, some money, pearl earrings, a spell book, so on), kidnap one of their children, and demand the item in return for the child's life. If the item is not paid up in a week, she kills the child.
  • The David Eddings novel Regina's Song has the Seattle Slasher, a killer who paralyzes sexual predators with a syringe of curare and then carves them to pieces with a linoleum knife. She was a Mission/Revenge type, targeting sex offenders because one of them raped and murdered her twin sister, and ultimately seeking out and killing the specific rapist responsible for that act.
  • Roderick Whittle, aka Jack the Ripper, from Richard Laymon's Savage.
  • A new serial killer makes their first kill.
  • A rare Filipino version in Alex Carlos from Smaller & Smaller Circles. He is also a Depraved Dentist and uses his dental tools to kill and eviscerate his victims, usually young boys from slum areas.
  • In Stationery Voyagers, Clandish Consto toys around with the idea of making a career out of being a Serial Killer. Then, he decides to become a full-blown terrorist instead (with plans to become a god).
  • The Stranger Beside Me is a True Crime novel about Ted Bundy (mentioned below). Some women are gonna die.
  • The first story that featured the infamous demon barber Sweeney Todd, The String of Pearls, had Sweeney murdering his customers by means of a barber's chair rigged to send people down to his basement, taking his razor to any who survived the fall, then delivering the bodies to Mrs. Lovett's pie shop across the street through a tunnel below to be made into pies. Sweeney was not motivated by vengeance like in the musical, but money. The story is a lot less romantic or melodramatic than the musical, and it ends with the two getting caught, Mrs. Lovett poisoning herself before the trial after almost getting lynched by her customers during her arrest, and Sweeney himself being tried, convicted, and hanged for his crimes. Note that Sweeney does share this trope's tendency to keep "trophies", as Tobias finds his house to be crammed with victims' clothing and other personal possessions.
  • The Tim Dorsey novels have Serge A Storms, who goes on spree killings whenever he's off his meds (Read: Every single book). Some people he kills in the pursuit of wealth, and others he kills purely because they offend him, usually for some sort of anti-social behavior (Unsportsman like conduct at a Little League game, playing music too loud...) or for damaging some part of Florida history. A great deal of the humor in the stories comes from the truly inventive ways he can come up with to off people.


Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report