Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane - Book Review

Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane - Book Review
Edited by John Skipp. Featuring Neil Gaiman, Thomas Harris, Ray Bradbury, Lawrence Block, Edgar Allan Poe, Simon McCaffery, Mehitobel Wilson, Jack Ketchum and more.
Updated: 10-23-2012


Psychos is a huge, heavy, oversized tome of terror, filled to the brim with all things grim. Where to begin? For me, it was just a roll of the dice at the turn of the page: The first story I opened to was Marla's Eyes, by Ed Kurtz. I don't recall ever having heard of Kurtz before, but now I'm a fan. As Skipp says in his introduction to the story, it's "a crazed comingling of Jack Ketchum and Evelyn Waugh which might not have seen print in the 1930s, when it's set, but which I can't wait to share with you now."


Skipp, as he has in his previous very well-received books in this series for Black Dog & Leventhal Publications, sets up each story (spoiler free) with a little bit about it, why he likes it, and how it was chosen.


Mixed in with the unknowns are some great names, such as Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, and the aforementioned Jack Ketchum. Stories we know (Thomas Harris's Red Dragon always stands for a repeat read), along with some which are brand stabbing new.


I must confess I have not yet read the book from cover to cover, but it's my absolute aim to do so (which is saying something, for a someone — me! — who doesn't necessarily prefer the short-form of storytelling).


My favorites in the collection are Neil Gaiman's Feminine Endings (super-creepy story of a psychopath who's a street performer), Now Hold Still by David J. Schow (about killers crossing off names on a most unusual hit-list), and Joe R. Lansdale's Incident On and Off a Mountain Road (which, oddly, Skipp neglects to mention, was the first in the HBO series Masters of Horror to be made into a mini-movie [directed by Don Coscarelli]).


I have read all of Skipp's marvelous introductions in this book (I can see him now: a smiling Crypt-Keeper in a message tee, jeans, and sneakers). Intriguing ones I am looking forward to are The Small Assassin (by Ray Bradbury), Death-in-Life Love Song (by Kevin L. Donihi), and Damaged Goods (by Elizabeth Massie, whose work I've enjoyed before).


I haven't read all of Skipp's previous collections, but even Zombies (my least favorite genre) held some fascination for me. Psychos are so much the better. At the end, Skipp suggests that reading non-fiction about psychos is even scarier, and recommends Vincent Bugliosi & Curt Gentry's Helter Skelter. I agree! I've read it many times, and it never fails to chill my soul. (Another truly hair-raising true crime thriller is Harold Schechter's Bestial: The Savage Trail of a True American Monster.)


But for now, put on your training wheels and zip through this blissfully fictional (?) collection of crazy.


(My only complaint about this book is a cosmetic one: it's well made, easy to hold and read, opens wide enough, but… I hate the tacky, blood-dripping font on the spine… on the shelf, it looks like it belongs stuck between the Goosebumps series and crack codes to Dungeons & Dragons.)


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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson

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