top of page

“Not since American Psycho has there been a novel as unnerving and relentless as Harry N. Maclean's compulsively readable The Joy of Killing.”

 Gregg Olsen, New York Times 
-selling author

The Joy of Killing - Book by Harry MacLean - True Crime Book

In his classic works of true crime, Harry N. MacLean examined the dark side of America and its fascination with violence. In The Joy of Killing: A Novel he builds upon this expert knowledge to create a page-turning literary thriller—an exciting combination of love story, mystery, and meditation on human nature and the origins of violence.




Harry MacLean is an Edgar Award winning writer and lawyer living in Denver, Colorado, who writes true crime books. 

“A dark, compelling literary work, this marks the fictional debut of Denver true-crime writer MacLean. He combines an eerie night in a deserted house with the recollection of a teenage sexual encounter on a train, in a story that explores the lure of violence. The mystery repels and haunts.”

 Sandra Dallas, New York Times
bestselling author

This fever dream begins on a stormy fall night at a lake house in the north woods of Minnesota, where we are introduced to a college professor who a few years earlier had written a novel in which he justified a gruesome campus murder under the nihilistic theory that there is no right or wrong, no moral center to man’s activity. The writer returns to the lake house, where he spent his childhood summers, and locks himself in the attic, intent on writing the final story of his life. Playing on a continuous loop in his mind are key moments in his past: his childhood in small-town Iowa, where he befriended a local drifter; his childhood on the lake, where one summer a local boy drowned in a storm; and the central fixation of his erotic meeting with a girl on a train bound for Chicago when he was just fifteen. All of these threads weave together as the writer tries to piece together the multitude of secrets and acts of violence that make up one human life.

Reminiscent of the work of noir master Derek Raymond and John Banville’s The Sea, with a touch of David Lynch, The Joy of Killing is both a fascinating look into the fugue state of one man’s mind as well as a searing, philosophical look at violence and its impact on our human condition. The novel is a tour-de-force fiction debut by one of America’s premier writers of true crime.

“Harry MacLean has long been without peer at performing the alchemy required to turn the often banal facts of true crime into narratives as alluring as any fiction. In The Joy of Killing, he focuses his profound talents on a lyrical, relentless story that is at once literary and hardboiled. The Joy of Killing is an unblinking vision into a world where the currencies are elastic versions of eroticism, memory, tragedy, and violence, where a measure of vertigo is the norm, and where morality is a variable, never a constant. A complex, stunning novel.”




The story begins in the middle of my fifteenth year on this earth. It was a mid-December evening in 1958, and I was returning home for Christmas from an eastern prep school, where I had been sent a year earlier in response to what a school psychologist referred to as “serious behavior problems.” I arrived in Grand Central Station on a train from the western hills of Massachusetts in the late morning. From there I would catch a train to Chicago, and from there another one to Des Moines, Iowa, where my parents would pick me up for the drive to Booneville.

In a fading light and cold wind, suitcase in hand, I tramped down the long walk to the last car and climbed the metal steps. I figured on settling in a window seat, lighting a weed, and checking out the sights as the train pulled out of the big city. Once rolling, I would walk up to the club car and see if I could talk the bartender into selling me a beer. I stopped at an empty row of seats and tossed my suitcase in the overhead rack. Across the aisle sat a girl, blonde, wearing a blue pleated skirt and dark sweater. Her face was turned away, but her bare legs lay sideways on the seat. The suitcase bumped down from the rack and knocked me on the shoulder. I thought I heard a muffled giggle from her direction. I jammed the suitcase back onto the rack, slipped out of my sports coat, loosened my tie, and sat down on the aisle seat.

The overhead lights threw a soft glare over the scene. People continued to climb aboard and bump their way down the aisle. I felt in my jacket pocket for the pack of Luckies I had bought at a newsstand in the station, along with a girlie magazine, and tore off  the red stripe around the top edge. I extricated a weed from the pack and whacked it on the back of my Zippo. The train lurched forward, stopped; lurched again, stopped; then began creeping up the tracks, tilting suddenly to the left, and then to the right, like a wounded buffalo. I flipped open the Zippo with my thumb. I felt someone’s eyes on me. I glanced across the aisle and saw the girl’s face in the window. She brushed strands of hair from her face, while sliding her half-exposed legs from the eat an onto the floor.

She turned to face me. The corners of her pretty eyes were slightly downturned. Her lips were in a faint pout. Blonde hair tumbled to her shoulders. I tapped the cigarette on the lighter again. She spoke.


   “Where are you going?”

I hesitated: I was not good with girls, particularly ones this pretty. She shifted slightly in her seat, revealing even more, whiter thigh. The conductor arrived, stopped between us.


“Tickets, please!”

I handed him mine. He stuck the stub in a clip on the overhead rack, his narrow blue-coated body blocking my view across the aisle. “Chicago,” he said, and placed a stub in the clip above the girl, and then moved on. Her skirt was now tucked under her legs. The clickety-clack of the wheels grew louder.


“Chicago. I mean Des Moines. And then Booneville.”


“I can barely hear you,” she said. “Why don’t you come over and sit with me? It’s a long trip.” She patted the seat next to her.

I stuffed the Luckies in my shirt pocket and lay the weed and Zippo on top of the girlie magazine on the inside seat. I rose and stepped into the aisle. She removed her hand and seemed to guide me into the seat with her eyes. I sat slightly turned, as she was, and struggled to keep my eyes from dropping to her thighs, which seemed even whiter up close. Before I could say anything she spoke.

“You’re a preppie, aren’t you?”


“I go to a girls’ school in Connecticut.”


I held out my hand to introduce myself. She touched my arm lightly before I could speak.


“All those dark cold months without anyone to hold you, or make out with.”

“We had dances with girls’ schools,” I said.

“God, they were terrible,” she said. “I went to one dance. My date was the fullback on the St. Mark’s football team. I never went again.”


“You’re pretty,” I said. I’m sure the boys wanted to dance with you.”

She smiled. Her eye held onto mine.

“It’s going to be a long night,” she said as she brushed back a blonde lock. She tilted her chin up a little. “Would you like to kiss me?”


The Joy of Killing can be purchased at your at your local bookstore or Amazon.

bottom of page