The Sculptor, by Gregory Funaro, is undoubtedly one of the most macabre books I have ever read. And that says a lot, as I’ve read some pretty creepy stuff. The idea that a person would not only kill others but go on to mutilate and chemically alter their bodies for public display was disturbing. These sculptures created just as visceral a reaction in the characters in the book, as we are shown not only the thought process of the killer, but that of those affected by the killings. Another book about a psychotic serial killer, The Sculptor might have gone along just as any other thriller featuring an FBI agent with an uncanny sense of how to think like the killer and an amateur sleuth who partners up with the agent and has her life endangered. But the similarities ended there.
First, the FBI agent, Sam Markham, had an unusual background that made him a little more qualified to hunt The Sculptor than the average agent. As a former English teacher, Markham was able to pull, believingly, from his knowledge as a liberal arts major. That he and Dr. Cathy Hildebrandt connected on an intellectual as well as physical level was completely understandable, in this light, and provided the basis for a believable romance between the two. Although there would ideally have been more sexual tension and build up to their attraction, those steps weren’t necessary because the novel is not considered a romantic suspense. It’s marketed as a thriller, so the little cheats in the romance are acceptable. The relationship played a major role in the novel and for its purpose, it was well done.
Also, that Dr. Hildebrandt’s book on Michelangelo was thought to have been the inspiration for The Sculptors’ later murders was a nice twist, especially since she was called upon by the FBI to help them in analyzing and capturing the killer as a result. Not blaming her, but giving her the credit of being a leading expert in understanding the history the killer seemed to be working from, the Bureau showed a willingness to think outside the box on the investigation. That said, the FBI may really operate this way anyway. I just haven’t seen this type of cooperation with civilians in other novels.
The novel was pretty easy to read, and Funaro employed a couple of tools that stood out. The first of these was the tendency for Markham or Hildebrandt to voice an opinion or thought and then have The Sculptor act on or repeat the same thought, and vice versa. At first, I didn’t know what to think about this, because it all seemed rather coincidental in a way that was unbelievable. Then I realized the technique may have worked to make the three of them a cohesive unit in getting the story told. A good investigator might think in sync with his prey that way, and as a result be able to capture the killer. And on a romantic note, people who are in tune with one another will often voice the same thoughts before they are spoken by the other.
The other technique was the blaming of society for many of the ills that plague the institution, as well as for the creation of such a monster as The Sculptor. Every skill The Sculptor needed to carry out his crimes was learned on the internet. Yes, he was a genius and had been a nursing student as well, but just having that medical knowledge didn’t seem to play as much into his crimes as having detailed instructions for doom and destruction available at the click of his computer keys. And his having been inspired in later times by Hildebrandt’s book seemed to indirectly state that writers have some responsibility for the words they put out into the universe. As the story unfolded and concluded, Hildebrandt was absolved of any of her creator’s guilt, however, when she was able to use that same body of written work to help capture The Sculptor. At least two of the characters were alcoholics, with lots of money, no less. And there was the head shake at the media, which behaved pretty true to form in the story, as they pounced on the story of The Sculptor without any candor about what they were reporting to the public and how they were doing it. This fascination with celebrity seemed to be the main focal point, as Funaro mentions how sales on Hildebrandt’s book went up as more about the murders was reported.
As far as psycho villains go, Christian Bach was quite an example. The only thing we know about him first off is that his mother used to hit him and that there was some kind of accident that ended with his father an invalid and his mother dead. Not enough information to create a sympathy for him, because there are many people in the world who have these tragedies and still move on to be productive citizens, But there is enough information to understand that there are many other layers to the killer we don’t know about. By the time we learn the true extent of his mother’s abuse and his subsequent love/hate relationship with his homosexuality, he has no more humanity for the reader to connect with. The Sculptor has employed the practice of “othering” with his victims, in considering them material and not people, to the point that he, himself, is Other. And not the advanced, Supreme Being he thinks himself to be, but the Other that books, the internet and society can breed if not cultivated into something positive instead.