'In Death' and the Most Twisted Murders in Fiction
Drilled to the wall through the heart. Beaten and drowned in a river by droids. Stabbed through the heart with a stiletto. Poisoned with a pie. Suicide by hanging, induced by mind controlling virtual-reality goggles. Raped, sodomized and strangled with a Christmas garland. Bled by artificial vampire fangs. Bludgeoned with a Maltese Falcon statue. These are just some of the deaths in J.D. Robb's bestselling series featuring Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her husband, Roarke: "In Death." Robb's latest installment, "Thankless in Death," is her 46th in the series, and by now Eve has dealt with a lot of creative carnage. Here, we pay tribute to the thrillers that have given us the ghastliest murderers and the most deranged demises that fiction has to offer, from Sherlock Holmes to Stephen King.
Hannibal Lecter wore many hats: brilliant psychiatrist, avid cannibal, serial killer. He wore faces, too: In Thomas Harris' horror classic, "The Silence of the Lambs," Lecter escapes the mental institution in which he was serving nine life sentences and eludes capture by cutting off a police officer's face and wearing it as his own. Not looking so good, Lecter's free ride out of jail is in an ambulance.
Hellhound-Induced Heart Attack
It's not very nice to take advantage of the superstitious. Ever since "wild, profane and godless" Hugo Baskerville imprisoned an innocent country girl and had his throat torn open by a great black hound of hell, generations of Baskervilles have been plagued by the vengeful canine spirit. As Sherlock Holmes deduces in Arthur Conan Doyle's novel, the recently deceased Sir Charles Baskerville died of a heart attack--but its cause was a different sort of animal.
Bret Easton Ellis' jaded "American Psycho" Patrick Bateman has had it up to here with the yuppie life. Rather than seek counseling for his malaise, however, Bateman goes on a psychotic killing spree complete with torture, mutilation, cannibalism and necrophilia. The crowning moment of his rampage comes when he invites over a prostitute and a friend of his, dismembers his friend with a chainsaw and then hurls the appliance down the stairs after the fleeing prostitute, literally cutting her down.
Nothing Gold Can Stay
Some hobbies can be taken too far. Gold magnate and smuggler Auric Goldfinger, who gives his name to Ian Fleming's seventh James Bond novel, lives a literally gilded existence: gold cars, gold planes, gold art--and gold women. He likes to paint his ladies head to toe in gold (leaving a bare patch for the skin to breathe) for his personal pleasure. When Bond seduces one of Goldfinger's gilt-lacquered women, the auric villain paints her completely--and she dies of "skin suffocation."
The Gypsy Curse Diet
You might think that when the old Gypsy whose daughter Billy Halleck ran over and killed reaches out to caress the morbidly obese Halleck's cheek and whispers "thinner" into his ear, he's wishing Halleck well. Indeed, Billy is thrilled when he inexplicably begins to lose weight. But his contraction doesn't stop in "Thinner," Stephen King's thriller (written under the name Richard Bachman). Cadaverous and desperate, Halleck begs the Gypsy to lift the curse. The old man allows him to transfer the blood debt, fittingly, in the form of a pie.
Soviet police investigator Arkady Renko is not amused by what he finds in the snow at an amusement park in Martin Cruz Smith's "Gorky Park": three people lying supine and wearing ice skates, whose faces and fingertips have been neatly removed. This killer went to unique lengths to make sure his victims were beyond recognition.
Tom Ripley is a resourceful chap. When presented with opportunity in the form of well-bred Dickie Greenleaf and his wife, Marge, Ripley insinuates himself into their lives to get a taste of wealth and access he's never known. Of course, Ripley knows he can't actually become Dickie, but he can do the next best thing: When a by-now-wary Dickie rents a boat for the two of them to San Remo, Ripley beats him to death with an oar, ties the anchor around Dickie's body, drops him into the drink and sends the boat down after him. Part-way through this first of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley novels, Ripley finally has Dickie's life all to himself.