This week I was going to write two blog posts. One was going to be about fact-checking presidential debates, and the other about how to tell if your villain is a lying sociopath.
Yup. I saw that coming too.
So, obviously, I’m now writing one post. Let’s start with the traits a sociopath and psychopath share (at least according to Psychology Today):
- A disregard for laws and social mores
- A disregard for the rights of others
- A failure to feel remorse or guilt
- A tendency to display violent behavior
Right. Moving on… Where does a sociopath’s behavior separate from the psychopath?
Well, writers, I don’t want to make you nervous, but the differences can be summed up as PLOTTERS vs PANTSERS.
Unless it’s a police procedural where the detective meticulously tracks down his clever opponent, psychopaths generally make boring villains. (Interesting anti-heroes though!)
- Psychopaths can be charming and witty, they can mimic social and emotional ties they are actually incapable of feeling, but most of all, they are careful, meticulous planners. Of course, what they are planning often involves self-gratification via unspeakable acts of violence and cruelty.
- They don’t have a moral compass, but they know how to project one. This lack of the ability to separate right from wrong makes them fearless.
Some real life examples include serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy. Historical figures would include Adolf Hitler (and, arguably, his associates such as Josef Mengele, Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Eichmann, etc.), Ivan the Terrible, and the Spanish Inquisition’s Tomás de Torquemada. In popular culture, they might include TV’s Dexter, or Hollywood’s American Psycho.
Since sociopaths make terrific villains, let’s just go down a list of their traits.
- Sociopaths are far from fearless. Instead, they are more likely to react nervously to events, making them volatile and prone to fits of rage.
- Above all they are masters of the Machievelian: cunning and deceitful, hiding behind outward masks of trustworthy sincerity. They’ll use seduction, charm, or flattery to achieve their ends. It’s not that they lack a moral compass, it’s just that they are manipulative, pathological liars. They can perceive the difference between right and wrong, but they are incapable of judging the morality of a situation in any terms other than their own gratification.
- Although forming attachments is difficult for them, they can become attached to an individual or group, while still having no regard for society or its rules. But to any outside their small chosen group, they are persistently angry or hostile, exhibiting mean or cruel behavior even in response to minor slights.
Examples in pop culture include BBC’s Sherlock, or The Dark Knight’s Joker. In real life? This was WAY too easy….
So how about that review? One of my favorite writers of psychological thrillers, Linda Huber, has a new book coming out. As with her other books, this isn’t so much a who-dun-it as a why-done-it. She takes us inside her villains’ heads to show us their often painful internal logic as they approach crimes they find both necessary and inevitable.
Ward Zero…the dead ward by Linda Huber
Horror swept through her. Had she been buried alive?
On Sarah’s first visit to see her foster mother, Mim, in Brockburn General Hospital, she is sucked into a world that isn’t what it should be.
Someone is lying, someone is stealing. And someone is killing – but who? With a grieving child to take care of, as well as Mim, Sarah has to put family first. She doesn’t see where danger lies – until it’s too late.
If you think you’re safe in a hospital, think again.
In her books, Linda Huber explores relationships and how they affect her characters. For most part, there is a focus on the bond between parent and child. But that has its dark mirror, the villain who powers the thriller. As an author, Linda Huber isn’t interested in the criminal villain—the godfathers, the outlaws, the career lawbreakers—who routinely employ evil as a tool of their trade, but who ultimately still have the potential for change, like the “It’s just my job” hitmen in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
Instead, for her psychological thrillers, she gives us the villain’s character and psyche. Her villains are more fundamentally broken. The politically correct might say they suffer from ‘antisocial personality disorder’. But for most of her readers, they are simply sociopaths.What’s the difference? According to Chris Weller on Medical Daily,
Both tend to be charming, despite being unable to empathize normally with others. They offer convincing systems of fear and disgust, but tend to lack both. Here’s the crux, though: Psychopaths cross the line. Sociopaths may hole up in their houses and remove themselves from society, while a psychopath is busy in his basement rigging shackles to his furnace.
Author Linda Huber is not interested in the psychopath, who makes a deliberate choice to plan and execute murder for its intrinsic thrill. Instead, it’s the sociopath who menaces her characters because he feels they somehow threaten his own goals.
Her setting is pure thriller gold—the understaffed, busy, NHS hospital in working class Manchester where nobody wants to end up. Returning from a job abroad, Sarah is looking forward to seeing her beloved foster mother Mim. Instead she is horrified to hear that Mim’s been injured and is in the hospital. Not only is Brockburn General Hospital “…a sprawling collection of buildings flung up in different decades, most of them in depressing shades of grey” but seeing the building brings back Sarah’s own memories of losing her family there and going into the foster care system.
As she visits Mim, Sarah encounters Frankie, a child who spent some time in Mim’s care, as well as Frankie’s troubled mother and dying grandmother. She also meets two young men working in the hospital, staff nurse Nick and her childhood classmate Jack, and starts to see the fragile beginnings of romance. But there are troubles in the hospital, and they soon escalate to kidnapping and death.
As Sarah stumbles through the next few weeks, she tries to help Frankie and to discover what actually happened to Frankie’s mother. At the same time, we visit the murderer’s head, watching as he fixates on Sarah only to (as we already learned from the prologue) realize he will kill her.
As readers, we can only follow helplessly as Sarah moves closer to both the solution of the crimes and her own date with a murderer.
He stared across the table in the crowded restaurant and his mouth went dry. Sarah. She was so lovely, smiling at him with shiny blonde hair just tipping her shoulders, and her blouse an exact match for the blue of her eyes. And now he would have to kill her too. It was too much to bear.
This is a story about families, the ones we’re born into that sometimes destroy us, and the ones that take us in and give us wings. Linda Huber takes us into the head of a murderer, but also shows us how people with flaws can still come together to make a home.
The setting, especially the hospital, was described with a level of detail that must be second nature to author Linda Huber (herself a physiotherapist). And the pace was like watching the Titanic—you know there is a wreck coming, but you can’t help watching them rearrange the deck chairs. Another fine, five-star psychological thriller from a master of the genre!
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*
- Book Title: Ward Zero…the dead ward
- Author: Linda Huber
- Genre: Psychological thriller
- Publisher: Amazon Digital (October 1, 2016)
- Length: 228 pages
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