The Killer Across the Table by John Douglas

Hello Kittens!  We’re going dark with this week’s review.  John Douglas is the author or contributing author on over a dozen books dealing with the lives of serial killers and the FBI profiling teams that hunt them.  He has done in-depth personal research on serial killers and their motivations as a former FBI Profiler.  He worked with others to create the Crime Classification Manual that is used by law enforcement professionals as one of many tools in the fight to understand how serial killers think and act and how to stop them.  “The Killer Across the Table” is another addition by Douglas to the field.  While it is labeled as true crime, it doesn’t necessarily fit the mold for the genre.  Douglas introduces the reader to 4 in-depth profiles of serial killers spanning several decades, but brings in stories from dozens more cases as support material throughout.  This is a dark, disturbing read and I would recommend reading it in a bright happy place.  These stories are real and they will turn your stomach.

Title: The Killer Across the Table The Killer Across the Table

Author: John Douglas, Mark Olshaker

Author website:

Publisher: Dey Street Books (HarperCollins)

Publish date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 9780062910639

Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble


“The Killer Across the Table” is a deep dive by author John Douglas (with an assist in writing from Mark Olshaker) into his career working as an FBI profiler focused on serial killers. This book focuses intently on 4 specific serial killers and their victims with detailed descriptions of Douglas’ interactions with the murderers. In the process of telling these stories, Douglas takes the reader through the development of criminal profiling and how it has been applied in other cases since its inception.

My first impressions of “The Killer Across the Table” were that the writing was clear. It will get a little more polish before it goes to print, but the authors convey their points succinctly. It also lists two authors but is written with one distinct voice, which is not always easy to do, especially in non-fiction.

The stories are pulled from personal experience and evidence and there are numerous direct quotes from the serial killers themselves, which lend authoritative weight to the narrative. I also think the content would make good source material for anyone preparing to write a serial killer based thriller or mystery. It puts me in mind of the television show “Criminal Minds” but the authors actually helped inspire the Netflix show “Mindhunter”.

At times, it can feel like you are reading a best-selling thriller, but then the horror sinks into your soul, because all of this is real. It actually happened and is likely to happen again. At times I had to stop reading and go think some happy thoughts. These are truly unpleasant stories, but they are told with professionalism.

The author(s) comes down somewhat strongly on those who believe in the rehabilitative potential of these killers, dismissing their professional appraisals as naive, at best. It conveys the divide between law enforcement’s perceptions versus the mental health community’s, which is an important aspect to consider that is often overlooked.

The conclusion reads like a lollipop at the end of a painful doctor visit. These stories fascinate people, but Douglas does an excellent job of helping to explain why we are drawn to these horrific tales. It is an unexpectedly profound soliloquy on the human condition.

Criticisms: There is a story that seems to go nowhere regarding the Atlanta child killer. As far as I can recall they never circle around to clear that one up. Douglas frequently introduces additional stories in the middle of the larger narrative about these serial killers, and if the reader doesn’t pay close attention, it can feel disorienting.


My rating:

1 glass of lemonade= a book that can only be recommended to someone whose reading taste you know well, like a best friend.  There may be a fair amount of curse words, spicy sex scenes, or potentially morally repugnant behavior.  This does not mean that the book is bad, just that the audience might be a little more limited.

As a Librarian, this one would be tough to recommend, mostly because of the graphic descriptions. I would probably only be able to recommend this one in the context of a reader who was looking for true crime or source material to write their own thriller. However, with the rise in popularity of true crime murder-based content (think: television shows like Mindhunter, Criminal Minds, Making a Murderer or podcasts like My Favorite Murder and Serial.) this book could definitely be included in the context of a true crime book display.


Disclaimer: I was granted early access to this title from the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation that I would provide an honest review of the material.

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