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Aspects of a Psychopath
Alistair Langston
Telos Publishing, 112 pages

Art: David J. Howe
Aspects of a Psychopath
Alistair Langston
With a career in the bar and nightclub scene behind him and currently employed in IT within local government, Alistair Langston has previously written lyrics for the stage musical The Beast in the Tower in addition to the short musical film Glamour Overdrive. He currently lives near Glasgow, Scotland where he has a number of projects in development. Aspects of a Psychopath is his first novel.

Alistair Langston Website
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A review by Chris Przybyszewski

In Aspects of a Psychopath, author Alistair Langston offers the diary of a killer, one who takes a victim, stores her in a closet, and then mutilates and kills her in graphic fashion. The killer (he goes by the name of Saul Roberts) then cuts up the body, puts it in his fridge, and then uses the meat for various meals throughout the rest of the text. Roberts is hardly done there, however. He tells of multiple victims in the course of the diary, as well as his relationship with Laura, whom Saul tolerates to live.

Grisly details abound. To start his diary, Roberts writes that "[Lena, his latest victim] is in a placid, euphoric state, the result of a large quantity of smack that I injected into her veins prior to performing the delicate task of peeling the lightly tanned flesh from her over-ripe breasts." Later, Roberts writes about a mugging gone badly. "I wrestled the blade from the old man's grasp," he writes in his diary. "Without giving him a chance, [I] brought [the knife] down on him, slicing off three of the fingers from his raised hand."

Later, Roberts talks of decimated breasts again. "Strips of flesh hung from her breasts," he writes. "Both nipples had been sliced off. One I could see clinging to the edge of the bowl that had been placed beneath [the victim] to collect the blood that dripped freely from her wounds.

Did you notice it? Be honest, were you more or less horrified about the breast filet thing the first time you heard about it or the second time? More than likely, you were horrified by the first description, cringed at the second description (the one with the cut fingers), and shrugged at the third description of carnage.

That is what we humans do. Our senses attenuate repeated stimuli. That means the more something happens to a person, the less that person is likely to react to that 'something.' In this case, the more Langston tries to shock his readers, the less shocked they will become.

Part of the reason for this is that the reader gets zero insight into the various victims in this story. So Roberts kills another person. Who cares? We don't know anything about the victims other than that they are victims. Instead of building a history of nice people that this guy Roberts has killed, we instead get a litany of names and the ways they die.

A killer like Roberts dehumanizes his victims and each seem less real and so he can therefore kill easier (watch Silence of the Lambs). In the same way, Langston has dehumanized the victims in this story, so that the reader doesn't care if the person lives or dies.

A lack of empathy with those dying does not have to be such a bad thing. The focus of this story is the protagonist, the main lead, and the character of the moment, Mr. Saul Roberts. It is his diary, right? Well, yeah, but Roberts plays his emotions and his thoughts close to his breast. In the same way that Langston never shows off the humanity of his victims, Langston conceals Roberts' true nature as well.

The reader never fully understands why Roberts is the man that he is. We only see him act and those actions do not illuminate his soul. Why is this important? Look back to the second paragraph, the one in which we read of Roberts' penchant for white meat. The thing that makes these things so terrifying is that these victims are humans. However, I believe these scenes are made all the more terrifying because they are being done by a human.

If that human has all the thoughts and emotions as you and me, then the line between average Joe Schmoe and Saul Roberts thins. The whole, nifty point of Aspects of a Psychopath is to get into this guy's head, but once we do, we realize there is not much there.

If Langston meant to show that his character is an emotional shell, OK, but what's the point of that? What's interesting about a character that feels nothing? Readers need characters with whom they can empathize and so the emphasis must be on the human.

Alternately, if Langston's intention was to create an inhuman monster, he succeeded. Roberts is thoroughly despicable. At the same time, if Langston wanted to create a character with whom his readers might relate, Roberts fails the test. In result, the reader becomes desensitized to Roberts' story. In short, it gets boring. Who cares if Roberts kills again? Who cares whether he gets caught? We would care if Roberts were given more of a personality, more character meat to his murderous bones.

With all that said, Langston should still be applauded for this effort. He walks a darker path than many of us would like to go. He shines a light on areas we would rather keep murky, and he at least attempts to show us what a murderer is like on a day-to-day basis and not just at the moment of the crime.

This sort of fiction is important because literature has always been an examination of this human species. Too often, readers receive examinations of heroes, heroes, and more heroes. Did I mention the heroes? Saul Roberts gives us a glimpse a side that decidedly is not a hero. Roberts falls short of this goal, but perhaps Aspects of a Psychopath will embolden others to examine the criminal mind in further detail.

Copyright © 2004 Chris Przybyszewski

Chris learned to read from books of fantasy and science fiction, in that order. And any time he can find a graphic novel that inspires, that's good too.

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