As a horror writer specialising less in ghosts and ghouls, and more in the human monsters that walk amongst us, I consider it my duty to study serial killer cases wherever possible. Dennis Nilsen’s acts were not necessarily the most heinous of all those I’ve studied, but his psychology makes his case by far the most intriguing.
This biography’s greatest element, and the reason I’d recommend it to anyone interested in how deep a human mind can descend into darkness, is that the book includes passages either written by him, or transcribed from interviews, where he desperately tries to analyse his own psyche to establish the reasons he did what he did. Also included are poems written by him and sketches, giving an unparalleled insight into the mind of an all too human monster.
The second greatest value to this detailed and lengthy assessment of Nilsen is how dispassionately Brian Masters writes, stating early on that he would avoid adjectives such as ‘evil’ so that he could approach the case from a scientifically objective perspective. This is a lesson we (and the tabloids) would do well to remember: it’s an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth that ‘evil’ men and women like Nilsen are not apart from us; they, too, are human. To understand what makes someone cause as much suffering as these people do, we must resist raising barriers between them and us, and always remember that every monster starts off as one of us. We must strive not only to deduce patterns and warning signs in the minds of killers, but also understand how a potentially ordinary, even compassionate person could turn down the most despicable of paths, so that we can work to prevent normal minds becoming deadly minds. Masters does just this in Killing for Company, and I applaud him.