Writing Echoes

Delijah's Writing Blog

Research book review: Criminal Psychology

Title: Criminal Psychology
Collection: Topics in applied Psychology
Author: David Canter (Editor)
Publisher: Hooter Education
Pages: 304
Year: 2008
ISBN: 978-0-340-92892-9

I bought this book out of sheer geekiness and although I won’t say it was a mistake, I probably overestimated myself. The book is an actual manual thought for university students, and unfortunately it rounds up a little dull. Okay, more than a little.

The book contents as described in the index are:

  • The basis of criminality
    • Psychology and the criminal process
    • Individualistic explanations of crime
    • Social explanations of crime
    • Mental disorder and crime
  • Varieties of crime
    • Burglary
    • Domestic Violence
    • Rape
    • Homicide and serial killing
    • Criminal groups and networks
  • Dealing with crime
    • Interviewing and testimony
    • Detecting deception
    • Psychology and investigations
  • Areas of application
    • Police psychology
    • Psychology in court
    • Psychology in prison
    • Concerning victims
    • The future of psychology and crime

Each chapter is dealt by a personal author, and that’s why many concepts end up being defined more than twice – and sometimes under different lights. The book falls in one of the science publication traps, too: over-referencing oneself, or at least the editor of the book. Even if Mr. Canter is an obvious expert in the topic of criminal psychology, it is clear that his school of thought is not the only one – considering other books on the topics and different approaches.

It sheds an interesting light on the whole criminal process, and I read it (although I own up: I skipped the domestic violence chapter) with interest, but it is not an easy book. It is quite dry, and it does give that ‘study’ feeling that takes away the pleasure of reading sometimes.

I found few examples to draw from, which made it tough. However, I rarely encountered undefined technical terms or jargon, which eased the reading along. A chapter on cybercrime and not just a passing reference would have been great, too.

As it is a UK book, there was little reference to the mafia in general and the yakuza in particular, focussing on gangs. I also missed non-violent crimes and a clearer distinction between what the authors consider “crime” and what just “illegal”. Sometimes it gives the impression that the only focus provided is the one that agrees with the general theories defended by Canter.

The best of the book? How to defeat a polygraph: “The polygraph can be beaten by intentionally eliciting stronger responses on the control questions than on the relevant question. The way to do this is by changing your blood pressure and heart rate by doing maths in your head, thinking of something frightening or squeezing your buttocks during the control questions” (Canter et al., 2008). The worst: Not a friendly and easy read.

In conclusion: While it is a very interesting topic, this is not good good writing-research material unless you are really familiar with textbook-writing style. In the end, it becomes dull and takes long to read, although some of the authors are easier to read than others. Finally, it focuses only in one perspective of criminal psychology, which may or may be not ‘on spot’ as it is very difficult to make science with human behaviour.

On a non-related note: Happy Birthday, Akira!.


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