Talking crime-writing with Chris Carter

By Candice de Beer

Chris Carter is not at all what one would imagine a crime author would look like. If anything, he looks much like the lead singer of a rock band does - long black hair, multiple facial piercings, and his arms covered in tattoos.

But as we all know, appearances are deceiving. Carter is, in fact, a former criminal psychologist who has turned his fascination for serial killers and his experience working crime scenes into penning unputdownable thrillers.

Gallery of the Dead, the latest instalment in the Robert Hunter series, was in fact inspired by a crime he worked on in America many years ago. The detective assigned to the case noted that the crime scene looked like a painting. This thought stayed with Carter for all these years. However, once he decided to write the book (and began to work his magic) it became incredibly twisted.

But why would someone willing wade into the murky depths of a psychopath’s mind? “I find it strange how people’s minds can drive them to do things that are so abnormal. How they can harm with no conscience. It fascinates me.”

Penning these novels may in fact be a form of cathartic release. Carter admits that the nightmares he witnessed all those years ago no longer plague him. The same can be said for readers who prefer to snuggle up with a good crime novel.

“There is a curiosity about crime, and serial killers. We are curious about things we don’t understand. We want explanations, something which crime fiction offers, even if it is a false knowledge.”

When asked whether there are similarities which trigger serial killers he says, “It always goes back to a trauma that happened to them as a kid. Most have been abused or neglected. It’s a given that if you could backtrack their lives, you will pinpoint the day they broke. With serial killers, it’s always a build-up.”

There is a pattern of similarity in the type of victims chosen by each serial killer. As they become more confident in their craft the violence inflicted on these victims escalates, and the time frame between each killing decreases. But what makes a serial killer choose his next victim is unknown. It’s an emotional reaction that science just cannot explain.

But it’s not only evil which shapes these gripping stories. The good characters in Carter’s novels are also inspired by men and women with whom he’s worked alongside.

He speaks highly of the doctors, pathologists, detectives, police officers, and lawyers who assisted him in his career as a criminal psychologist. Particularly the women, all of whom hold high level positions in his book.

“Most of the women I met were brilliant and highly intelligent. They were equal to their male counterparts. Some, however, felt they needed to work harder than their colleagues to prove a point. The fact that they were good at their job didn’t suffice.” Special Agent Erica Fischer’s character is a prime example. She’s threatened by Detective Hunter and falls into the trap of trying to do it all herself. Her hostility and superior attitude is annoying and offensive, but sadly a realistic representation of some women in male dominated fields.

From the first chapter, Gallery of the Dead grips you by the throat and slowly begins to tighten its hold. After closing the final page, you’d think Carter had mapped out the entire tale, but you’d be wrong.

His writing process is completely organic and as a result, he spends a great deal of time rewriting. “I don’t plan anything, which is why my books take so long to write. Most I end up changing half way through.”

He begins each day reading what was written the day before. If he feels an idea will make the book more exciting, he goes back and changes it. Carter quietly admits that he was a month late on delivering the manuscript for Gallery of the Dead to his publisher.

Surely the publisher can excuse a slight delay when the novel in question is a thrilling race against time to catch an unpredictable killer. Best of all, Carter whets our appetite for more with his climatic ending. Who is Lucien Folter and why did his escape from maximum prison cause Hunter’s blood to run cold? We’ll all just have to wait and see.