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The Killer Across the Table by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
True crime

The Killer Across the Table

by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

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Quick take

Sure you want to know what makes a serial killer tick?


The FBI’s pioneer of criminal profiling, former special agent John Douglas, has studied and interviewed many of America’s most notorious killers—including Charles Manson, "Son of Sam Killer" David Berkowitz, and "BTK Strangler" Dennis Rader—trained FBI agents and investigators around and the world, and helped educate the country about these deadly predators and how they operate, and has become a legend in popular culture, fictionalized in The Silence of the Lambs and the hit television shows Criminal Minds and Mindhunter.

Twenty years after his famous memoir, the man who literally wrote the book on FBI criminal profiling opens his case files once again. In this riveting work of true crime, he spotlights four of the most diabolical criminals he’s confronted, interviewed and learned from. Going deep into each man’s life and crimes, he outlines the factors that led them to murder and how he used his interrogation skills to expose their means, motives, and true evil. Like the hit Netflix show, The Killer Across the Table is centered around Douglas’ unique interrogation and profiling process. With his longtime collaborator Mark Olshaker, Douglas recounts the chilling encounters with these four killers as he experienced them—revealing for the first time his profile methods in detail.

Going step by step through his interviews, Douglas explains how he connects each killer’s crimes to the specific conversation, and contrasts these encounters with those of other deadly criminals to show what he learns from each one. In the process, he returns to other famous cases, killers, and interviews that have shaped his career, describing how the knowledge he gained from those exchanges helped prepare him for these.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Killer Across the Table.
The Killer Across the Table

In a Small Room in the Big House

Here, it is not so much Who done it?, but Why?

And in the end, if we have discovered the Why? and add in How?, we will also come to understand the Who? Because Why? + How? = Who.

The aim is not to be a friend. The aim is not to be a foe. The aim is to get to the truth.

It is a verbal and mental chess match without any game pieces; a sparring session without body contact; an endurance contest in which each side will seek out and exploit the other’s weaknesses and insecurities.

We sit across a small table from each other in a dimly lit room whose cinder-block walls are painted a pale bluish gray. The only window is in the locked steel door, and it is small and reinforced with wire mesh. A uniformed guard peers through from the other side, making sure everything remains in order.

In a maximum security prison, nothing is considered more important.

We have been at this for two hours already and finally the moment is ripe. “I want to know in your own words what it was like twenty-five years ago,” I say. “How did this all happen to get you here? That girl—Joan—did you know her?”

“Well, I’d seen her in the neighborhood,” he replies. His affect is calm and his tone is even.

“Let’s go back to the moment she came to the door. Tell me what happened, step by step, from that point on.”

It is almost like hypnosis. The room is silent, and I watch him transform in front of me. Even his physical appearance seems to change before my eyes. His eyes are unfocused and he looks beyond me to stare at the vacant wall. He is moving back to another time and another place; to the one story of himself that has never left his mind.

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Why I love it

For those of us addicted to true crime, the inexorable tide of TV shows, podcasts and books on the subject in recent years has provided ample sustenance. Now, with The Killer Across The Table, John Douglas and Mark Olshaker have brought something genuinely new to the genre.

This is very far from mindless wallowing in a crime’s gory details. Drawing on twenty-five years with the FBI, criminal profiler John Douglas talks us through the interrogations with four predatory killers that enabled him to understand the macabre rationalization behind their grisly crimes—and in doing so provide a way of predicting and catching out future monsters. The exchanges are fascinating (his subjects often relating their most heinous deeds with chilling nonchalance) and Douglas clearly builds a rapport with his subjects, who seem to respond to his desire to give their actions some analysis and provide terrifying insight into their dark hearts.

In Killer, it is the forensic examination of motive that is most compelling. Did the murderer get off on watching his victim’s terror, or did he view their anguish as an irrelevant consequence of his desire to kill? Did he dispose of the body or return later to relive the ‘glory’ of his crime? Douglas shows us that it’s the answers to questions such as these that shed light on the killer’s mindset; into what separates one kind of psychopath from another, allowing us to come closer to understanding why these anomalies of nature do what they do.

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Member ratings (685)

  • Samantha P.

    San Antonio, TX

    Disclaimer: I love true crime books. I’ve read others by this author and loved them as well. It’s readable and understandable without a psychology degree and reveals insights into the minds of killers

  • Katie T.

    Tulsa, OK

    It's difficult to read at first because of the content. I began to read it 3 years ago but I had to put it down. A few days ago I picked it back up & got through it. I do find it worth the discomfort

  • Katy P.

    Winston Salem, NC

    An eerie, but interesting read about four cases that Douglas' has come across over his many years as a profile for the FBI. Difficult for some readers but worth the gruesome details and sad moments.

  • Connie S.

    New Palestine, IN

    I’ve always been fascinated with Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and profiling done by law enforcement. This book was so interesting! I hope that it’s used as a textbook in college classes.

  • Sheri H.

    Taylors, SC

    Interesting book. I hate saying I loved it because these are true tragedies. Thankfully there are men and women out there that are dedicated to finding justice and putting the bad guys away

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