Publisher: Canongate Proof
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Thomas Quick has more than thirty kills to his name. He murders irrespective of sex, age, colour, caste or creed. His weapons of slaughter includes knives, clubs, wires and sometimes even his bare hands. He makes it a point to dismember his victims and, if he is in the mood, eat their body parts. His bloody fingerprints are splattered all across Sweden and Norway and even Finland.
Hannes Rastam is an investigative journalist with a mild overdose of obsessive compulsive disorder not unlike Stieg Larsson’s Mikael Blomkvist. He is battling a losing fight with cancer. Out of nowhere he chances upon Quick’s case and realizes that not all that meets the eye is the truth.
With due respect to Larsson and Henning Mankel, The Making of a Serial Killer is the best work of noir to have come out of that part of the world in a very long time. And you can almost be forgiven for believing that it is a work of fiction.
You read it right – the story of Sture Bergwall aka Thomas Quick is as true as they come. A telling reminder of the fact that fact is indeed stranger than fiction, Rastam’s rollercoaster narrative (brilliantly translated into English by Henning Koch) builds up Quick’s story from scratch and then unravels the shocking truth like the many layers of a juicy onion.
Spoiler alert – this is a reverse murder mystery with a vengeance. Rastam starts off with his first meeting with Sture Bergwall in a Swedish psychiatric prison after he has been convicted of eight murders. It does not take him long to build up a rapport with this much maligned serial killer and soon he tumbles headlong into a web of deceit, malice and imagined violence.
None of the cases against Quick hold much water except for his own confessions and a purported troubled childhood. With a heady cocktail of narcotic medicines, theories gleaned from newspapers picked up from public libraries, “helpful” tip-offs by the investigating authorities and a series of leading questions, Quick suddenly became the answer to Sweden’s most mysterious murder stories for over two decades. The relatives of the victims cried foul but the wave of “Quick mania” stifled their voices before anyone could hear them.
To add to that, fraudulent psychologists selling “repressed memories” were in fashion in the 1990s and a number of them came up with their versions of the truth. Some of it went towards filling (conveniently) the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle which conventional logic could not accomplish. Everyone involved seemed almost thrilled to have a “serial killer” on their hands – it didn’t help that The Silence of the Lambs was one of the most popular films of the time.
When you put all this into perspective, you realize the Herculean task Rastam had committed himself to – a man against an entire system. You marvel at his efforts as he painstakingly sifts through each small piece of information in a world without the Internet and any such advanced technology. At certain points of time in the narrative, you cannot help yourself from mentally putting your hands together for the man who showcases the triumph of human spirit in delivering his fellow human being the much vaunted commodity that is called justice.
The book has its share of flaws though. Given the explosive material at hand, the treatment at times gets a bit too dry even for non-fiction. The attention to detail might put off readers expecting something on the lines of a James Patterson or a Thomas Harris.
These however do not take anything away from Rastam’s accomplishments. The Making of a Serial Killer is not just a must-read but also a must-think about the elephant in the room that we call human society.
Interested in this serial killer? Read this piece by The Guardian on Thomas Quick for some surprises.