In a crowded bar, you watch the patrons around you, sizing up a potential partner and the potential competition. You see something you like, a particular hair color or style, a smile, nice arms, nice legs, a nice chest, a pretty face or a handsome jawline. They catch you watching. Signals are exchanged, subtle but inviting. You make your move, your approach invited, expected, desired. There is, for at least a brief moment, and maybe longer if you're lucky, potential. You've been looking for certain attractive qualities, waiting for that one person who is a match. Such is the way of dating. But, what if you're looking for more than a common date? What if you're looking for, say, a serial killer?
This is, at its earliest and most basic, the premise of Michael J. Seidlinger's My Pet Serial Killer. Claire is a student studying forensic science, but she has some very particular fetishes and she knows how to find those particular qualities that she finds desirable in a mate with unerring accuracy. She could, presumably, easily become a victim, but some mysterious kink in the rules of attraction gives her an upper hand, as it has with Victor, dubbed the Gentleman Killer by the media at large.
Serial murder is most often about power and control, and is typically inextricably tied to sexual pleasure. In the world of BDSM, those who possess positions of power in their daily life often seek out sexually submissive roles in their carnal affairs. I'm sure we've all heard stories about the powerful executive who absolutely dominates the boardroom during the day, only to frequent certain types of clubs at night where he can be handcuffed and spanked. It makes sense, in certain perverse ways, that a serial killer, whose carnal activities are literally matters of life and death, who possess total and complete power over another, would enter into a submissive affair. After all, don't serial killers need love, too, and what would be the nature of their relationships?
Enter Claire. Smart and domineering, she makes killers her pets. She breaks them down piece by piece, destroying their defenses until they are left entirely subordinate to her, until a serial rapist and murderer like Victor is left wearing nothing more than a leash and literally licking her kitchen floor clean.
My Pet Serial Killer is as much about psychosexual fantasy and fetishes as it is about murder, and Seidlinger puts all of it on graphic display for readers. Perhaps more than any of these, though, My Pet Serial Killer is all about voyeurism. Claire rigs her home with webcams so she can watch Victor at work with his prey, and they routinely speak via computer chat programs like FaceTime. Written in first person, Claire tells her story directly to readers. Other chapters tell us of the eventual movie and television series based on Claire's work and relationships.
Seidlinger himself uses these various techniques and this story as a whole to riff on the relationship between his readers and the appeal that serial killer stories hold for them. Serial murderers are certainly fascinating taboo subjects, and it's fair to say there is a certain voyeuristic allure to such crimes. In both fiction and true crime works, the serial killer genre allows readers to explore dark fantasies, real or imagined, and observe horrifying experiences, descend into psychological madness, and escape all of it free from any lasting harm. We watch, disconnected and safe, seeking some degree of satisfaction from such stories. We seek understanding in the unraveling of these mysteries of a serial killer's mind, and in this understanding we've come to dominate the killer, being neither a victim nor the incarcerated murderer, reducing these crimes and the various actors within to little more than digestible forms of entertainment, making these brutal acts of atrocity and those who commit them submissive to our own morbid curiosities. We have made them into little more than performers.
My Pet Serial Killer is an interesting and intense meditation on the relationship between killers and the women who derive companionship from them, while also establishing a meta connection between the readers and the material. Claire is a forensic scientist, but Seidlinger demands that we be forensic readers, studying the crimes and the relationships presented to us to unravel the mystery, while also examining our own relationship to that which we are consuming. Is Claire any better than the killers she has dominated since the burgeoning of her sexuality, directing them to kill for her entertainment, and even going so far as to supply them with their victims and bury the evidence? Are we any better than Claire in our search and consumption of such stories, particularly true crime narratives in which actual human beings have been murdered in awfully grisly ways so that we can gaze salaciously upon them for a few hours of entertainment?
Seidlinger brings an uncomfortable fourth dimension into the equation, subverting ones typical expectations of a serial killer horror novel if you're willing to dig deeply enough and get your hands dirty. You can certainly enjoy My Pet Serial Killer on a superficial level, digging into it for its brutal kill scenes and kinky sex, but it's a far more engaging and rewarding read when approached with thoughtful deliberation and a bit of psychological studiousness. To get the most out of My Pet Serial Killer requires a willing degree of complicity and submissiveness. How you'll fare with it, though, is all part of the mystery.
[Note: I received an advance reading copy of this title from the publisher, Fangoria.]
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