Book Review: Murder in plain English: From manifestos to memes—Looking at murder through the words of killers

Date01 March 2022
Published date01 March 2022
Subject MatterBook Reviews
gangs included lesbian and bisexual members, it would seem that entrée into doing so would be pos-
sible. The lack of gun violence among gay gang members is also an important nding that calls for
more discussion. In all, these criticisms are minor and may be purposefully omitted and on reserve for
further research on GLB gangs. In the meantime, The Gangs All Queer has been the most thorough
examination of gay gangs to date and belongs on the research shelf of any serious gang scholar and as
assigned reading for classes where the aim is to introduce students to the full breadth of gang culture.
Arnteld, M., & Danesi, M. (2017). Murder in plain English: From manifestos to memesLooking at murder through
the words of killers. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. 335 pp. $24.00, ISBN-10: 1633882535.
Reviewed by: Clarissa Aguilar, University of HoustonClear Lake, Houston, TX, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016819839120
Humanity has been writing about murder since the days of antiquity. In addition to the documented
killing, motive is another component of the story that the author often chooses to highlight. Cain
murders his brother, Abel, out of envy. Medea kills her children as a way of seeking revenge on
her husband, Jason. These types of stories about murder and their justications continue to hold audi-
ences captive today. True crime documentaries, such as a recent Ted Bundy series, remain popular on
Netix. The covers of magazines offer intimate interviews with those who were once close to killers,
such as Dennis Raiders daughter. The collaborative craft of a criminologist and an anthropologist,
Murder in Plain English, posits a subcategory the authors have termed literary criminology, focusing
on the writings about and by the killers themselves. A primary aim of this analysis is to examine
classic and contemporary texts about murder and hope to elucidate their motives. By pulling apart
these manifestos of evil, the authors hope to gain enough data to one day be able to create a proactive
method of detecting individuals with homicidal intent.
In addition to the valuable information gleaned from scrutinizing these murderous manuscripts,
the authors highlight the way in which these infamous works embed themselves at within pop
culture. It seems morbid to think of a murderer as a celebrity, but there are many serial killers
whose names are instantly recognizable to most people. One of the most infamous killers remains
the Zodiac Killer. The cryptic tauntings of the Zodiac have been featured in the media for
decades. California newspapers chronicled the crimes as they occurred in the late 1960s and early
1970s, various novels have posited several suspects, and lms and video games have drawn inspi-
ration from 50 years of collective lore about the still unsolved crimes. There are even online commu-
nities which continue to pour over the time line of crimes and dissect writings and ciphers attributed
to the Zodiac. Despite a wealth of information about the Zodiac, it seems that we may know every-
thing about the killer except for his identity. The second chapter introduces the Zodiac, whose cul-
tural legacy and his communications with law enforcement seem an ideal case to be examined
through the lens of literary criminology.
Media coverage in the early 2010s reported three separate acts of mass murder, which remain a
topic of online discussion. Before the commission of their crimes, Elliot Rodger, Dylan Roof, and
Adam Lanza used the Internet as a platform to document their manifestos and seek out online
spaces to validate their own warped perspectives. Like most 20-year-olds, these young men
turned to the Internet to seek information. Their topics of choice, however, led them to a dark
corner of the Internet: misogyny, white supremacy, and pedophilia. Among thousands of websites,
they were able to nd hateful echo chambers, which undoubtedly propelled them to contribute their
own manifestos. There these writings remain, stored indenitely and accessible to anyone with a
Book Reviews 127

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