‘Mindhunter’ book, show differ but still bring thrills

Whitney Clum

The things people are capable of can be truly horrific and serial killers have especially fascinated the zeitgeist.

The Netflix series “Mindhunter,” and the book it is based go back to the very beginning, when people first started asking why criminals did what they did, with both versions of the story exploring different aspects of the much-discussed topic of criminal psychology.

The book “Mindhunter” begins with the author in a coma, which effectively sets the tone for the rest of the book. After briskly explaining how FBI agent John Douglas came to work for the FBI, the book explores the beginnings of the criminal psychology and how profiling came to be used to inform investigations and predict the motives of serial killers and other offenders.

The book clips along at a nice pace, moving from high point to high point, linking together pertinent information from several high profile cases to show how trying to understand criminal mentalities worked its way into law enforcement. The prose, while simple, adheres to what Douglas claims at the opening of the book; he knows how to tell a story. Despite essentially being a collection of crimes only bound together by their investigator and the category of criminals committing it, Douglas does a great job of threading the stories together into one interwoven web.

Netflix’s adaption of “Mindhunter,” while not completely faithful to the book, manages to both directly quote the book and tell a completely new story. Spearheaded by acclaimed director David Fincher, known for films such as “Se7en,” “The Social Network,” “Zodiac” and “Fight Club,” the series opts for a more narrative style instead of recounting the book’s information in the form of a documentary.

The mini-series follows fictional character Holden Ford, portrayed by Jonathan Groff, who possesses a well of never-ending charisma. Ford goes from a naive agent genuinely curious about the possibility of looking at investigations from another angle to having a panic attack on the floor outside the room of a serial killer.

The character development is slow, but after re-watching the pilot follwing the finale, it is easy to see how far the show had progressed in a mere 10 episode season.

The series knows that it is a smart, slick, well-oiled machine and comes out swinging with discussions of Manson, the nuances of small-town crime versus big city crime and how the backdrop of the 70s fits into the evolving portrait of crime. While I wasn’t familiar with all of the killers portrayed, each actor brought a different type of menace to the episodes that featured them and the knowledge that all the crimes they bragged about were true gave the series a unique menace.

Apart, both the book and the series tell entertaining and informative stories, but in completely different ways. While the show’s cinematography makes it clear the producers were treating the series like a work of art with dark lighting and the type of camera work usually reserved for pricey HBO series, the book manages to tell a more brutal and intimate story. However, being a native Wichitan, having a character based on the real-life BTK Killer lurking in the background throughout the series hit a bit closer to home.

Additionally, the book approaches the relatively new world of criminal psychology as a new era of criminal justice, while the TV show treats the subject as the wizard behind the curtain, something that has been pulling the strings the entire time, something to be revealed to understand the big picture.

With adaption after adaption of beloved books biting the dust due to whatever made the original being lost in translation, “Mindhunter” manages the rare feat of producing something similar enough to be called an adaption, but different and fresh enough to be its own thing. I would recommend it to anyone who even has a passing interest in crime.

Rating: 4/5 stars