Guest Author - Barbara Rice DeShong, PhD.
Transsiberian is the story of a young married couple (Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer) returning from a Beijing mission trip on the exotic Transsiberian Express. With enormous beauty whizzing past the windows, these nice people meet a couple who are far from missionaries. What makes this story and most good mysteries intriguing is the realization that any one of us would have made the same innocent assumptions about the new couple. We, like the missionaries, would have found the criminal couple’s stories interesting and funny. We, too, would have accepted their invitations.
We wouldn't recognize our new friends as dangerous. Which means, as happened to the missionaries, each of us could, like these two sweet people, become killers. Not because we intended to lose our grip, but because we'd expect our new acquaintances, who seem similar to us, are just like us. We wouldn’t recognize the moment when we’d become no more than pawns in our new friends’ scheme.
Mysteries, when there is murder, include delving into the personalities of people, who unlike ourselves, are capable of killing to keep their lives uncluttered. The movie, Kalifornia, is about another bright young couple who leave the East Coast for California, the husband planning to visit the childhood homes of serial killers as they go across the country. The masters thesis he’s writing is on what is unique and interesting about the growing up experiences of these killers. The couple posts an index card in the student area looking for someone willing to share the cost of gas and make the trip. A serial killer and his girl take up their offer.
As the couples travel, odd events happen. As when the bad guy claims he has no cash. Then after a gasoline stop, he is suddenly loaded (having murdered a man in the bathroom at the stopover). Slowly, the writer recognizes something’s amiss, but not until he has to make the choice to kill or be killed, does he have the core of his thesis. That there is nothing special about serial killers. That they are empty people of no deep thought or interest. Serial killers are not interesting like you and I.
These “it could happen to anyone” mysteries remind us that dangerous people exist in our world, people we do not recognize as potentially harmful because we assume they are governed by the same morals we are. Psychopathic people are excellent pretenders. Which makes them facinating.