I have discovered the prose of Timothy Hallinan, and now I am buying all of his books. It is so rare to find an author that not only gives us a gripping thriller mystery, but writes with an English befitting literature, I am not letting this discovery go to waste.
A NailThrough the Heart is definitely not for the faint-hearted (harharhar). It is set in Bangkok, which is unfortunately infamous as a magnet for sexual predators, and the evil characters are inspired by true people, which makes it both worse and better. Better because at least the horrors of the book have the purpose of bringing to light real events that the general public may not be aware of and not just invented by a sick mind for shock value, worse because you cannot close the book in the comfortable knowledge that it was all pretend. It is this uncomfortable truth that brought me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions while I was reading about some of the worst people that have ever lived, similar to the one that I experienced when reading Trafficked.
My first reaction, as always, was to jump in the book and kill the child traffickers and abusers. The second reaction that immediately follows that is no, killing them is too easy, then everything just ends for them, it’s almost a blessing, torture them first. Better yet, make them go through everything that they inflicted on their innocent victims, that’s only fair. After the initial heat wears off and if I actually think about it thoroughly I understand that this thirst for vengeance is of course meaningless, and I come back to the ultimate conclusion: take away their freedom, stick them in a tiny cell for the rest of their lives where they can’t hurt anyone or bribe anyone to make their lives more comfortable, having to stare out of a tiny barred hole in the wall day after day. This time, however, I thought a little bit more about that second reaction I feel, the one that lasts the longest and somehow feels fair, and why it is I go back there every time. Partially, of course it’s about anger and revenge, I am human after all. However there is another aspect that I understand contributes significantly to my wanting these people to suffer what they have inflicted on others.
I think that human beings have a very hard time really understanding what it means to not have empathy. Just the thought of the suffering that those children went through causes me pain. The idea that I could be responsible for such suffering in others causes me more pain than I can imagine having to endure, I would die rather than inflict such suffering on others. So many of us feel that it is this that makes us “human”, what we feel makes our species unique, our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s place and feel emotional pain. How then is it possible that there are people in this world who cannot feel that emotional pain, who even get pleasure from causing other people to suffer? It goes so contrary to our very nature that we want to force them to understand what they have put others through. If that cannot understand emotionally then we want them to understand physically what it means to be on the other side of that fist, or knife, or gun.
What it really comes down to is we want them to feel guilt. Is there any worse emotional suffering than guilt? Any other suffering that persists, never fading with age, one over which humans have lost more sleep or sanity?
Unfortunately we have to accept that sociopaths do not have the capacity to feel guilt, and perhaps that makes them lucky in an ignorance-is-bliss sort of way. Torturing them will not make it click in their heads, will not force them to see the error of their ways, it only makes you the torturer the subject of their ire and a no better person than they are. If anything it justifies what they have done in some ways by demonstrating that in some cases it is tolerable, acceptable, and acceptable in society to get pleasure out of such torture. If you are one of those people that scoffs at the idea that torture is never OK and that some people deserve it, I want to pose a hypothetical scenario to you:
A man who is responsible for torturing and murdering people, getting very aroused while doing so, is caught and convicted to life in prison. In another state a similar person is also caught, but his sentence is to be tortured and killed himself. That state decides to fly in the first convict to do the honors, not being able to find anyone else to stomach the task. Would that bother you? Even if the victim deserved every bit of torture that he got, would it bother you that the person that is performing the torture is getting his own twisted pleasure out of doing the torture?
If the answer is yes, why are you so quick to justify the pleasure you feel from the idea of torturing a monster?